What is the Hustle?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The hustle refers to several types of dance forms emerging during the disco era. Most are familiar with the song Hustle recorded in 1975 by Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony. This song greatly increased the line dance form of the hustle, and it was performed in discotheques throughout the US and Europe. It was based on a line dance popular among young Latin Americans on the US East Coast. You still may be expected to dance it at disco revival parties. It’s not terribly difficult to learn and can usually be mastered in an evening.

The hustle was a dance popular during the disco era.
The hustle was a dance popular during the disco era.

The other hustle refers to a partner dance, that you’re now most likely to see performed by American ballroom dancers, or you can learn it at ballroom dancing lessons in most of the US. You’ll also see this partner dance performed on shows like the Fox Network’s So You Think You Can Dance. Doriana Sanchez, who has a background in Latin ballroom dance, and has choreographed for several popular performing artists like Cher, does most choreographed hustles for Fox’s show.

As a couple dance, the hustle is a smooth blend of mambo and swing, danced in what is called a slot. This means, instead of covering a lot of territory like the quickstep, you tend to move in only a small amount of the dance floor, unless the dance has been deliberately choreographed with tricks that create greater movement. The “slot” type of dancing was very well suited to crowded discotheque floors.

The simplest moves of the dance are similar to mambo in terms of counting. The foot moves first on the beat between beats one and two, or on beat two. The basic movements are thus danced on beats 2,3 and 4 of a 4/4 measure, rather than being danced on 1,2,3,4. This can be a little confusing to beginning dancers and may take a bit of time to master.

The partner dance incorporates turns, flips, lifts, side outs, where the male partner brings his partner to the side of him, usually through a turn. There are complicated arm movements, where the couples arms are entwined or over their heads. Though disco is likely to be considered as less serious dancing, the complication of the advanced forms of hustle proves otherwise.

It can be a beautiful partner dance, with dazzling tricks and complicated foot and handwork. The mambo inspires the movement of the feet, and the hips, which are well engaged during the dance. The tricks primarily rely on swing dance moves. If you’re familiar with swing, the hustle is an easy transition.

You may not get all the tricks and spins of the hustle if you’re a beginning dancer, but you’ll probably get the basic steps down after a few lessons. For inspiration, take a look at the film Saturday Night Fever. You’ll see both partner and line dance versions in the film, but it does have a well-deserved R rating. Parents might want to merely show the dance scenes to younger children and teens.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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