Improvised dance

Disco

Disco is a style of uptempo dance music which combines:

  • a time signature of 4/4
  • a fast tempo
  • four-on-the-floor rhythms
  • guitar driven energy often with syncopated bass lines
  • luscious orchestral arrangements
  • vocals with reverb
  • verse and chorus structure
  • escapist lyrics about love and dancing

Four-on-the-floor is a drum style where the bass drum plays on all four beats of the 4/4 bar and the hi-hat cymbal plays on the off beats.

The video demonstrates the differences between four-on-the-floor rhythm and hi-hat.

Gloria Gaynor performing live
Gloria Gaynor

Disco first appeared in the early 1970s in the clubs of New York. The most famous club was Studio 54. The first audiences were predominantly gay or black. Discotheques played vinyl records on powerful sound systems for non-stop dancing. Elaborate strobe disco lighting systems throbbed to the beat of the music.

Disco has its musical roots in funk and soul. It was influenced by:

  • the groove based drum rhythms and energetic guitar parts of funk
  • the orchestral arrangements of soul music

A groove is a long section with the same rhythm parts repeated for dancing.

One of the earliest disco hits was Never Can Say Goodbye (1974) by Gloria Gaynor. It is groove-based with lush string and brass arrangements, driving drum rhythms, and funky guitar.

In 1975 Gaynor worked with the producer/mixer Tom Moulton on the album Never Can Say Goodbye. He extended three tracks to fill the first side of the album in a non-stop mix specifically for club use - the first side-long disco mix record.

The 1977 film Saturday Night Fever about the New York disco scene brought disco to a much wider audience. The film features the dancing of John Travolta and the songs Stayin' Alive and Night Fever by the Bee Gees.

Night Fever by the Bee Gees

Donna Summer performing live
Donna Summer

Donna Summer was one of the most successful disco artists. In 1977 she collaborated with Giorgio Moroder to produce I Feel Love, the first disco track to have an entirely synthesised backing track. The electronic backing instruments, combined with its layered texture and four-on-the-floor drum pattern, was very influential and became a blueprint for house and techno.

I Feel Love by Donna Summer

Disco dance steps

Disco dances are usually made up of successions of several simple moves:

  • revolving the hands and raising the arms in time to the beat
  • turns concluded by planting the foot on the floor on the beat
  • stepping forwards and backwards whilst tilting the shoulders up and down
  • stepping side to side between moves

Classic disco dances are the hustle, the bump and the disco cha-cha. As disco dancing evolved it became more athletic and showy. Dancers would sometimes get up during the breaks (extended instrumental sections) and perform a highly gymnastic style of dance using head and back-spinning. They became known as breakdancers.