1970s Disco Dances
Richard Powers

During the 1960s, New York City Hispanics—largely Puerto Rican and Cuban—kept the 1950s teen tradition of Bandstand-style swing alive, at the St. Mary's Church dances in the Bronx and elsewhere, partially because it had always been considered masculine for Latino men to dance.  When the disco scene erupted in New York City in 1970, partnered dancing was revived, with the disco dancers adopting the local teen's style of swing kept alive by Latinos during the sixties.  The term Latin Hustle therefore refers to the NYC Hispanics who were still dancing this way, not because it's a from a Latin American country (it's not).  The structure, step patterns and figures of disco Hustle are all essentially the same as 1950s American teen jitterbug/bop, which had been mothballed for a decade.  However the music was new, as was a more upright walking style, which gave this form of swing an entirely different look and feeling.  My page on the disco lifestyle is here.

Both partnered and solo dancing were done throughout the Disco Era, but the proportions changed dramatically in 1978.  During the first eight years, disco dancing was primarily partnered dancing, the living tradition of swing.  To quote Maria Torres, a disco dancer from NYC, "The thing which really killed partner dancing was Saturday Night Fever.  Disco was originally an underground dance, done mainly by Hispanics, blacks and gays, who could really do partner dancing.  They were incredible, but that was an underground thing.  Then when Saturday Night Fever came out, the masses flocked to the clubs to experience what they saw in the movie.  But what they thought the Hustle was was freestyle, because that's what John Travolta did."  Partnered Hustle did continue, but was somewhat overshadowed by freestyle solo dancing in the final two years of the disco craze.

The original script for Saturday Night Fever called for only partnered dancing, as was actually done at the 2001 Odyssey club in the story.  But John Travolta felt that a solo dance would better develop the character arc of the storyline, and insisted that the script be changed to feature him doing solo freestyle dancing.  Travolta said, "I had to enforce that scene.  They were basing this movie on his being the best dancer, and he didn't have a solo.  I had to prove to the audience that he was the best."  Little did he know that his added scene would change the dynamic of disco dancing.

Another reason for the later increase in freestyle solo dancing was the shift in focus to heavier drinking during the Disco Fever years.  44,000 new disco clubs sprouted up in one year, partially because liquor sales were so profitable, and clubs devised new ways to encourage drinking.  Partnered dancing required considerable (and fairly sober) skills, while freestyle and line dancing could be done while intoxicated.

But the partnered Hustle remained the focus of serious disco dancing, and the eighty how-to-disco books that were published after Saturday Night Fever focused on partnered dancing.

Author's note:   Your source for this page has first-hand experience.  I worked as a media and club designer for a large network of discos (New York, Boston, Ft. Lauderdale, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Minneapolis and Houston) in the seventies, from before Saturday Night Fever launched the disco fad, until after it all subsided.  I traveled to all of these clubs, participated in the huge NYC disco conventions, and record companies sent me their latest disco recordings as soon as they were released.  Thus I had a chance to see all of the phases of the disco craze.  In addition, I've reconstructed the dances from 78 disco dance books and LP record descriptions that were published between 1974 and 1981 (see the bibliography at the bottom of this page).  Other primary sources include interviews with former disco dancers, and film and video from the 70s.


Latin Hustle  (also called The Hustle, Latin-Swing, New York Hustle, and Manhattan Spanish Hustle)
   This was the most commonly described Hustle in the disco dance manuals.

Man: Tap L foot to the L without weight   (or tap in place, or tap crossing behind)
Close L to R with weight
Quick step back R.  Quick close L to R with weight
Step forward R
Step L
Step R
     Count:   1   2   3 and   4   5   6.
     Woman steps opposite, beginning R.
     The last 3 steps can be done in place, forward or backward, as needed.

   There were also several other step patterns called Latin Hustle, varying regionally and over time.

American Hustle  (also called The Hustle, New York Toe Hustle, and Easy Hustle)

Man: Taps L foot to the L without weight (or tap in place, or tap crossing behind)
Close L to R with weight
Tap to the R side without weight
Close R to L with weight     either in place     or start walking forward R
Step L     either in place     or rock back     or travel forward
Step R     either in place     or replace     or travel forward
     Woman steps opposite, beginning R.
     The last 3 steps can be done in place, forward or backward, as needed.

Four-Count Hustle  (also called The Hustle, Street Hustle, Rope Hustle, and Disco Merengue)
This was the most common version of Hustle danced in most of the San Francisco discos, except at the Dance Your Ass Off club, which preferred Latin Hustle.

Man Steps L
Step R   (those two steps usually make a swing move)
Rock back L
Replace R
     Woman steps opposite, beginning R.
     The first three steps can be done in place, forward or backward, as needed.
     Timing is an even quick-quick-quick-quick.

 — Or rock step first —
Man rocks back L
Replace R
Step L
Step R
     Betty Lee's timing: The first (rock) step is a quick step, 2 and 3 are slow, 4 is extra slow.
     Count:   and 1   2   3   hold.


Disco Swing   1950s Bandstand-style 6-count triple swing done with disco style and attitude.
     Hook-step-step, hook-step-step, walk, walk.

Continental Hustle   Similar to American Hustle.  Side L, tap R closed to L, side R, tap L, walk L, walk R.

New York Hustle   Simple 4-count touch-step-touch step in place.

Tango Hustle   A Morph of Tango and Hustle.

3-Count Hustle   This appeared in only 2 sources, at the very end of the 70s.  Then it became mainstream in the 1980s.

Plus many others:  Latin Street Hustle, Triple Hustle, Two-Step Hustle, Lindy Hustle, Fox Trot Hustle, Kick Hustle, Cha-Cha Hustle, plus many line dances called Hustle.


Virtually every disco how-to-dance book and dance studio taught one or more of the above step patterns, carefully fitting each figure into one of these step timings.  Then on the actual disco floors (I was there) many dancers simply walked and strutted through the following figures (below), without specific timing patterns, adding occasional step flourishes such as taps, kicks, rock-steps, swivels and poses.  Many former disco dancers describe their dancing in this manner, which is confirmed by surviving films of disco dancing in clubs.   So both were done: specific step timings, like the Latin Hustle, and simple walking, ornamented by footwork flourishes and poses.

(only a few of hundreds)

Butterfly  (also called Walk Around Turn, Crossover and Passing Turn)
    Take an open two-hand hold and walk around each other, turning clockwise or counterclockwise.

Follow's Outside Underarm Turn  (also called Arch Turn and Outside Spin)
    In Place:  She does a CW spot turn in place; he stays in place.
    Crossing Over:  Woman passes forward by his left side, turning CW, as in 50s bandstand swing

Follow's Inside Loop Turn  (also called Reverse Underarm Turn and Inside Spin)
    In Place:  She does a CCW spot turn in place; he stays in place.
    Crossing Over:  Woman passes forward by his right side, turning CCW.

Waist Slide  (also called Belt Scratch)
    He raises his free R arm slightly, walks forward toward his left breaking through held hands (scratching his belt buckle into held hands), as she walks forward past his left side.
    One version has his R arm raised high.  A disco film shows him changing her hand into his R.

2-Hand Loop-De-Loops (also called Wrap Turns, Woman's Walk Around and Loop Pass)
    2-hand Follow's Loop Turn followed by 2-hand Waist Slide

Dishrag  (also called Crossed Twirl and Twist Turn)
    From either open 2-hand hold or crossed hands, he raises both hands to turn her under.

Wrap  (also called Sweetheart, Cradle and Cuddle Turn)
    From 2-hand hold he wraps her CCW in to his right side.

    Once wrapped up, both walk around the other.  Whoever is wrapped usually backs up.

Reverse Wrap  (also called Wrong-way Sweetheart and Reverse Cuddle)
    From 2-hand hold, he leads his R hand inward to wrap her CW in to his R side, as he walks his R arm over her head to her R shoulder.  Then he raises his L arm to lead her straight forward under his L arm, then she turns right to face him.  Unwind crossed hands with Dishrag.

Lead's Wrap (Lead's Sweetheart)
    From 2-hand hold, he raises his R hand and wraps himself CCW in to her R side.

Lead's Wrap and Duck-out
    The same followed by a Wheel with him backing followed by his ducking and backing out.

Roll Off the Arm
    From the Wrap he releases L, she unwinds to swingout at his right side.

Lateral Dip  (only one of many disco dips and drops)
    From Rolling Off the Arm, she spins back into Wrap, he lunges side L and she leans into his hip.


Another tradition revived from the late 1950s and early 60s was Line Dancing, where a group of individuals performed a routine of steps, facing in the same direction, without partners.  The Madison (circa 1958) faced in only one direction, and it was so complicated, with a dozen figures, that it needed to be called by a prompter.  It's believed that the Hully-Gully (1961) was the first short and easy line dance, and it was the first to turn one quarter at the end of the pattern, to repeat facing a different wall.  The Continental (Continental Walk) appeared at about the same time, also sharing these two attributes.  After that, most line dances were fairly short four-wall patterns.

The L.A. Hustle was one of the earliest disco line dances (circa 1974), renamed the Bus Stop when it migrated to the East Coast.  There were many versions of the Bus Stop.  The Hot Chocolate (1978) was a simplified version of the 1961 Hully Gully, then a decade later, the Country Western Electric Slide (1989) was step-for-step identical to the disco Hot Chocolate.  Other notable disco line dances were Travolta's Night Fever Line Dance from Saturday Night Fever, the Hollywood Line Hustle, Rollercoaster, the New Yorker, the Pump, and Disco Duck.

John Travolta's 1980 film Urban Cowboy helped launch another dance craze—Country Western, which continued disco's line dancing, but with a cowboy flair.

DISCO BIBLIOGRAPHY   The collection of Richard Powers

1974    Dick Blake     DISCO DANCES   (including 5 early kinds of Hustle)     Cleveland
1974    Dick Blake     THE NEW DISCO! TOUCH DANCING   (many Hustles evolved forward, including Latin and NY Hustle)     Cleveland
1975    Rolling Stone Magazine     Disco Issue  (10 articles)     NY
1976    Adam VIII Ltd.     YOU CAN LEARN TO HUSTLE   Instruction Booklet w/ Disco Hustle LP     NY
1976    The Hustle Factory     DO THE HUSTLE - LP with vocal & printed instructions     Terre Haute IN
1976    Arthur Murray Schools     LET'S DANCE  (with disco and Hustle)     NY
1976    Rolling Stone, Publisher; Abe Peck, Editor     DANCING MADNESS     NY
1976    Jeff & Jack Shelley     LEARN DISCO DANCING - LP with vocal & printed instructions     NY
1976    Jeff & Jack Shelley     LEARN DISCO DANCING - 8-track tape instructions     NY
1976    Newsweek Magazine     THE DISCO WHIRL  (cover story)     November 8 issue
1976    Tee Vee International, Inc.     VOUS POUVEZ APPRENDRE LE HUSTLE     Markham, Ontario
1977    Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing     DANCING BALLROOM, LATIN AMERICAN AND SOCIAL     London
1977    Betty White     BETTY WHITE'S HOW TO HUSTLE  (book)     NY
1977    Betty White     HOW TO HUSTLE  (LP instructions)     NY
1977    Betty White     HOW TO LATIN HUSTLE  (LP instructions)     NY
1977    Grant F. Longley     LINE DANCE MANUAL      MA
1978    Anon.     GET DOWN, FEVER DANCE - mimeographed instructions
1978    Robert Audy     JAZZ DANCING   with disco dancing moves     NY
1978    Skippy Blair     DISCO TO TANGO AND BACK,    Downey, CA
1978    Keith & Christine Burton     DISCO FEVER DANCE BOOK     Great Missenden, England
1978    Crane-Norris Marketing     SATURDAY NIGHT DISCOMANIA
1978    Ann Czompo     DISCO HUSTLE!     Homer, NY
1978    Gabbert Elbert     "DISCO FEVER" Subject Book (spiral bound notebook) with illustrated Tango Hustle description     Birmingham, AL
1978    Uta Fischer-Munstermann     JAZZ DANCE  including DISCO DANCING     NY
1978    Gateway Records     HUSTLE, BUS STOP & LINE DANCES - illustrated instructions in LP
1978    Albert Goldman     DISCO     NY
1978    Albert Goldman, LIFE Magazine     "The Delirium Of Disco"     November issue
1978    Kitty Hanson     DISCO FEVER     NY
1978    Barbara Hegne     DISCO FEVER
1978    Carole Howard     THE COMPLEAT GUIDE TO SURVIVAL SOCIAL DANCE (including Disco)     Minneapolis
1978    Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing     DANCING - STEP BY STEP (including Disco)     London
1978    Janet Jasek     DISCO LOVERS GUIDE TO DANCE     South Bend, IN
1978    K-Tel Records     LEARN TO DO THE HOT CHOCOLATE - illustrated instructions in LP     NY
1978    Karen Lustgarten     THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO DISCO DANCING     San Francisco
1978    Roy Madrid     DISCO... YOU SHOULD BE DANCING     Los Angeles
1978    John Monte     FRED ASTAIRE DANCE BOOK  including Hustle, Latin Hustle, California Hustle     New York
1978    Steve Ramacher     LET'S DISCO, A Complete Instructional System for Disco Dancing     MN
1978    Shelly Schunick     DISCO STEPPIN' - instructions and LPs     Baltimore, MD
1978    Time Magazine     "Travolta Fever"  (cover story) April 3 issue     NY
1978    Aurora Villacorta     DISCO     Danville, IL
1978    Jack & Kathleen Villari     THE OFFICIAL GUIDE TO DISCO DANCE STEPS     Secaucus, NJ
1978    Lester Wilson     DANCE DANCE DANCE    
1979    Andy Blackford     DISCO DANCING TONIGHT     London
1979    Nancy Bruning     THE KIDS' BOOK OF DISCO     NY
1979    Bill Butler & Elin Schoen     JAMMIN', Complete Guide to Roller Disco     NY
1979    Joetta Cherry & Gwynne Tomlan     DISCO DANCING     NY
1979    Randy Deats     DANCING DISCO     NY
1979    Alma Heaton and Don Zimmerman     DISCO WITH DONNY & MARIE
1979    Janet Jasek     DISCO TEXT - The Complete Book of Disco Dance Instruction     Lansing, IL
1979    Ann Kilbride & A. Algoso     THE COMPLETE BOOK ON DISCO and Ballroom Dancing     Los Alamitos, CA
1979    Kerry Kollmar     ROLLER DISCO DANCING (with photos of Kevin Bacon)     NY
1979    Jena Lauren     DISCO     Los Angeles
1979    Lauter Publ Co     DISCO STEPPIN' OUT Magazine Vol. 1, No. 1     Hollywood, CA
1979    George Lloyd     LEARN DISCO DANCING     London
1979    Carter Lovisone     DISCO HUSTLE
1979    Karen Lustgarten     THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO TOUCH DANCING     San Francisco
1979    Karen Lustgarten     GUIDE COMPLET, DANSE DISCO     Montreal Quebec
1979    Judi McMahon     A GUIDE TO DANCING DISCO     NY
1979    Jennifer Meloney     YOU CAN DISCO     NY
1979    Roberta Morgan     DISCO     NY
1979    Arthur Murray Disco Dance Studio     "DISCOPEDIA" DISCO DANCE LESSONS (series of 4)     NY
1979    Newsweek Magazine     "Disco Takes Over" cover story     April 2, 1979     NY
1979    David Peterson & Laura Trepanier     DISCO JUNCTION, Dance Book 1     Minneapolis, MN
1979    Bruce Pollack     THE DISCO HANDBOOK     NY
1979    Maxine Polley     DISCO BASICS     Englewood, NJ
1979    Rolling Stone Magazine     "Disco"     April 19, 1979
1979    Brian Sherratt     DISCO CHIC     NY
1979    Lani van Ryzin     DISCO     NY
1979    Betty White     HOW TO DISCO DANCE (with audio cassette)     NY
1980    MAD Magazine     DISCO - Special issue on disco, with a vinyl parody disco record
1980    Dennis Fallon     THE ART OF DISCO DANCING     St. Louis, MO
1980    Ronald Lackmann     DISCO! DISCO! DISCO!, A Guide to Disco Dancing     Middletown, CT
1980    Leonard McGill     DISCO DRESSING     NJ
1980    Vita Miezitis     NIGHT DANCIN'     NY
1980    Jerolyn Ann Nentl     DISCO DANCING     Mankato, MN
1981    Pamela Morton     BASICS OF DISCO DANCING     Boston