Although the world’s first disco, The Peppermint Lounge in Paris, Donna Summer became a huge name in disco and helped make disco dances one of the most common dances from the 1970s. She had had many hits in Europe before releasing “Love to Love You, Baby” to an overwhelming response in the United States in 1975. More big disco hits from Summers such as “Hot Stuff”, “MacArthur Park”, and “She Works Hard for the Money” soon followed.France, opened in the 1950s, disco dancing did not really catch on in the United States until much later. The Cuban influence in Florida in 1968 helped turn “disco swing” salsa dances into other common dances from the1970s. A strong pulsing beat sets the defining rhythm.
Van McCoy’s hit song “The Hustle“, which explains how to do the disco dance named in the title, premiered in 1975. The Hustle is definitely one of the most common dances from the 1970s. The New York Hustle is slower than the Los Angeles version and has more footwork.
Speaking of footwork, John Travolta’s moves to hit Bee Gees songs such as “Staying Alive” and “Night Fever” in the 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever inspired many of the common dances from the 1970s. Interestingly, another Travolta movie, Urban Cowboy released in 1980, helped set the hottest dance trend for the 1980s called the Texas Two Step.
Nobody puts the 80’s in a Corner
In 1987, ‘Dirty Dancing,’ starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, opened in theaters across the United States. The film was a surprise box-office hit, earning some $64 million. The Dirty Dancing soundtrack went multi-platinum and included the hit singles “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, “Hungry Eyes” by Eric Carmen and “She’s Like the Wind,” co-written and sung by Swayze himself. More importantly, ‘Dirty Dancing’ rocketed dirty dancing and dancing as a whole into a national and cultural phenomenon, with people signing up to courses to try and emulate the film. Once again, the intimate, touch, social dance was back in the spotlight after almost 20 years of relative silence.
The Swing Revival was a late 1990s and early 2000s period of renewed popular interest in swing and jump blues music and dance from the 1930s and 1940s as exemplified by Louis Prima, often mixed with a more contemporary rock, rockabilly or ska sound, known also as neo-swing or retro swing.
The Swinging 90’s?
Throughout the early 1990s, neo-swing was mostly an underground movement, though exposure through movies such as 1993’s Swing Kids and The Mask (whose hit soundtrack featured both Royal Crown Revue and the Brian Setzer Orchestra) introduced the genre to a wider audience.
By the late 90s, retro swing’s popularity was increasing. The 1996 film Swingers, featuring Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, was both a critical and financial success. In 1997, third wave ska and ska punk had become a major presence in mainstream music. The commercial success of bands such as The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, who combined ska and punk with a prominent brass section, and Hepcat, who played a more traditional jazz and R&B influenced style of ska, presumably helped pave the way for neo-swing’s mainstream acceptance.
Finally, in 1998 and 1999, the swing revival entered the mainstream, partly due to a television commercial for The Gap featuring the original Louis Prima recording of “Jump, Jive and Wail” and khaki-clad dancers doing the Lindy Hop. Neo-swing bands cracked the Billboard Top 50, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies had a major hit with “Zoot Suit Riot,” Big Bad Voodoo Daddy played the half-time show at Super Bowl XXXIII, and retro-swing music was prominently featured in television and films such as 1999’s Blast from the Past.
Cue Spotlight: Social Dancing Roars Back the 21st Century
What started as a quiet summer series launch is now television’s biggest hit. And the progression of ‘Dancing with the Stars’ from short-term time period filler to a mammoth success story only proves the value, and importance, of feel-good family friendly programming.
Debuting on June 1, 2005 in the United States, ‘Dancing with the Stars’ was described as a six-week dance competition, as six celebrities—Evander Holyfield, Rachel Hunter, Joey McIntyre, Kelly Monaco, John O’Hurley and The Bachelorette star Trista Rehn—competed for the now notoriously cheesy mirror ball trophy. Judged by Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli, the show hoped to tap into the public’s fascination with the reality/competition format by giving the audience the ability to call in and vote.
One celebrity and his (or her) professional dance partner would be eliminated each week under the watchful eye of Emmy-nominated quip master Tom Bergeron.
At a time when more people were outside enjoying the warmth of the summer than watching television, ABC was hoping the combination of celebrities and dance would spark some interest. But what it never expected, and ultimately accomplished, was to reinvent the variety genre.
Once a staple on television, “variety” traditionally meant a combination of comedy, music and skits, all hosted by the likes of Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason, Carol Burnett, Dan Rowan & Dick Martin, Sonny and Cher and countless others. By the mid-1970s, however, viewers’ tastes had begun to change and the format seemed like it needed a breather. So the variety show took a hiatus from prime time.
Flash to the present and the rise of so-called non-scripted programming—competition and docudramas, in particular—have all but swallowed up the TV landscape. Many are spiced with backstabbing and induced melodrama. But some, like Dancing with the Stars, prove that what once thrived in the past can exist again.
Tom Bergeron and company are now the new definition of variety, with its future paved with over 20 million viewers each week thanks to the dancing and the music, the comedy and the interactive elements, and arguably the best mix of celebrity participants since the days when aging actors, up-and-coming stars, singers and sports figures, legends and news figures stood in line waiting for a guest star appearance on a show like Carol Burnett’s.
Once again, the intimacy, art and glamour of social dance has finally returned to the main stage. Better still Dancing with the Stars and the revival of social dancing demonstrates the health benefits of dancing. As millions of Americans are tuning in, and turning on, to ballroom dancing, the nation’s newest craze is energizing teens, boomers and seniors alike. Many are discovering a form of weight-bearing exercise that can be both enormously fun and beneficial. Combing the glamour, fitness and well being, social dance has rocketed back to its rightful place in limelight of America and continues to be social and cultural phenomena that is literally re-shaping modern culture.