Kate Swanson is an Australian writer and dancer with nearly 40 years' experience in ballet, jazz, flamenco, ballroom, Latin and bellydance.
Going out for the evening in the 1970s meant going to the disco and dancing. The sixties had been a decade where everyone danced alone. The Twist, the Frug, and the Mashed Potato were all danced solo. The only acknowledgment of your partner (if you had one—more likely you were with other girls, bopping around your handbags) was to smile sweetly at him occasionally.
Finally, in the 70s, it was OK and even macho for men to get on the dance floor, and partner dancing came back into vogue.
Line dancing also arrived.
1. Line Dancing
Today we think of line dancing as belonging to country music, but it was born in the disco. Some will claim its origins go back to folk or contra dancing, but it was to pop music that line dancing developed its classic pattern: a short sequence of steps done facing front, then take a quarter turn and repeat the same steps facing to the left, then to the back, to the right, etc.
Below are some of the classic line dances of the era. If you're planning a 70s-themed party, these easy dances are a great ice-breaker.
2. The Hustle
The Hustle was the most important dance of the decade, but it was a partner dance. There were many variations.
I've included a line dance version of the Hustle, not because it's authentic, but because your guests will think they're dancing a real 70s dance (those Travolta points!), so it's a good choice for a party.
3. The Bump
As a dancer, I wouldn't call The Bump a real dance. The only "step" is to bump your hip with someone else—otherwise, you just sway. I suspect the main reason for its popularity was that it gave you the excuse to bump hips with someone you liked the look of! It inspired numerous songs.
I didn't like this dance. As a petite girl, I too often found myself targeted by overly-enthusiastic boys, who either sent me flying or left me with a bruised hip.
4. The YMCA
With most popular dances, it can be hard to pin down the exact origin. Not so with the YMCA. It came directly from the Village People's single of the same name. It's not really a dance, because only the chorus has set moves, but it's still fun. It only just makes it into this article, because it wasn't released until 1979.
It's worth watching the video, because you'll probably discover you've been doing it wrong all these years!
5. My Favorite: Nutbush City Limits
I have been known to sprint across a ballroom to get into line for the Nutbush. I love it! This is definitely a line dance, not suitable for solo or partner performance, and the beat is simply irresistible. The video showing the steps is a little pedestrian for my taste—look at the energy in Tina's performance and channel it!
6. The Bus Stop
I remember dancing the Bus Stop, but when I went looking for a video of it, I found a dance that was nothing like the one I learned. I think the first video is probably the original, but it seems there were many variations. The second video is the one I know. Like Nutbush, it was exclusively a line dance.
7. The Hully Gully
The Hully Gully is a 1960s dance, but I'm including it here because it's a good dance if you're planning a disco party. It's also of interest because some claim it was the first "real" line dance, being the first to use the classic pattern of making a quarter turn before each repeat. Unlike some of the others, it hasn't survived in the US, but it's still very popular in Italy, and a variation is still a common party dance in France, where it's called La Danse Madison (not to be confused with the Madison, which is a different line dance from the 1950s).
The Origins of Seventies Dance
Tracing the origins of any dance is difficult. Often, a new dance craze simply explodes on the scene, and no one is quite clear where it came from. In fact, the style has been evolving quietly from something else for some time, but no one has noticed.
Disco is no exception. It emerged in New York in the 1970s but the dance style wasn't new. In fact, it was borrowed from the Hispanic community. While mainstream society had given up "touch dancing" with the advent of pop, the Puerto Ricans and Cubans had never stopped dancing with a partner. Essentially, their style was a Latinised version of the 1950s jitterbug or swing. Disco introduced a more upright posture and, of course, a new kind of music.
Today, when we think of disco dancing, we have a vision of John Travolta's solo in Saturday Night Fever. However, that wasn't reflective of real disco dancing, which was largely done dancing with a partner. Originally, there were no plans to include a solo dance in the movie at all, and it was added later at Travolta's insistence.
Saturday Night Fever brought disco dance into the mainstream, but by that time it was already 1978: the seventies were almost over.
© 2017 Kate Swanson
Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on February 20, 2018:
It's scary to admit that I remember doing many of these dances as a girl- young adolescent! You have quite the background in dance - I'll be interested in reading your other articles. Thanks for an interesting read.
Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on February 11, 2018:
I was in a folk dancing club in college in the early 1960s. One of the dances was from Greece and was like the one in the movie Never On Sunday. Another line dance was the hora from Israel. When I was in grade school in the 1950s, every school dance included the bunny hop. I missed out on going dancing in the 1970s. Anyway, I wouldn't have been able to figure out such complicated steps. There must be a special dancing intelligence.
Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on January 27, 2018:
I forgot about all of these dances. Thanks for the reminder. It was fun going down memory lane.
dashingscorpio from Chicago on December 31, 2017:
Last month I had a 70's themed Soul Train/Disco Party.
Everyone who came dressed in 70's inspired clothing too.
We had a "bump" dance contest and some folks did the robot. All in all everyone had a blast.
Themed parties from the 70s and 80s are really popular right now. A friend of mine is planning a Great Gatsby themed party for her brother next year.
People love dressing up and reminiscing.
Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on December 30, 2017:
Yes, this article is a bit of fluff but I had such fun researching it!
Glen Rix from UK on December 30, 2017:
Thanks for this blast from the past. The Bump video is hilarious!