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En La Discoteca - The history and gendering of the dance floor

A post Covid-19 world; one where socioeconomic pressures are at an all-time high and people have strayed away from the dance floor and social gatherings for so long. With the collective power of the world, and thanks to modern medicine, it appears we have survived the latter part of an international-wide pandemic that changed the world forever as well as the way we move forward as a society. Now more than ever, it appears that escaping from the perils of reality and “letting go” is something highly sought after.

The idea of escapism, and the reason the nightlife industry is a multi-billion dollar one, allows us to become a character of the night and embrace who we wish to be- regardless of our mundane day-to-day life. The anonymity of the nightclub frees you. We have seen an explosion of dance music in the last year, a genre seemingly becoming more and more mainstream by the day. BPM ( beats per minutes ) on average for music has increased on all fronts and upbeat tempo music has become a standard for many looking to elevate their mental state and “find their own groove.” From the likes of Drake releasing an entire album dedicated to house music, to Beyonce’s brand new single “Break My Soul,” it is clear that the industry, as well as the general population, is catching on to this trend. Yet, House music has been present for decades as a product rooted in queer and black roots. To truly understand the premise of house music we must look to its precursor– the disco revolution of the 1970’s.

The explosion of disco was ground breaking as a sexual revolution. It came as a direct response

to the post-war conservative 1950’s America. Disco was a major factor of the new openness seen within society in regards to sexuality and gender expression. Disco ultimately became a reflection of one’s own sexuality. There was a major relation between sex and disco that captivated the world like never before. The rebellion was more than just going against the status quo, it represented people finally identifying the promises of the future. Through social and personal development many people began to break free from the chains of overt conservatism. For the first time in modern America, we saw freedom of expression and sexuality being encouraged. While a change in the right direction, “family values'' remained resilient in most American homes and there was a certain sense of hesitation when it came to who was allowed to participate in such. Children were heavily censored from this explosion of “sex” in sociey, and there was still a strong tone of conservatism in the air. However, disco was still available for the youth to consume with more age appropriate content produced, highlighting disco in a more innocent sense. Fashion, music, and the learning of new styles of dance invited the youth to enter the conversation of disco.

We see Americans begin to question the idea of gender and sexuality like never before. The new styles of dance broke down barriers on the dance floor, and a sense of compatibility was now achievable in how you dance with someone. Moreover, men were no longer required to take to the floor. For the first time, we saw women being able to take charge as a solo dancer or dominate their partner by leading the dance. The dance floor invited a de-stigmatization of gender roles. While men were often seen by society as the one who must lead, the stylistic movements of “Disco” allowed women to lead the dance floor.

Masculinity was being challenged like never before. The differences in proving masculinity were seen especially through the lines of race and ethnic groups. Take the white man compared to the black man, for instance. While white men were trying to reconceptualize themselves and beginning to decentralize themselves from a machismo westernized idealism, in black culture, high fashion as well as disco dancing was a way that they were displaying their masculinity. The glitter and glam was viewed in terms of achieving high sex appeal, and suddenly became extremely sought after.

In the true fashion of disco there are two main ways to dance. While both are highly stylized and important, many would say how disco should be danced with a partner as a social dance, yet it represented for many a freedom of expression of one’s true self. This juxta-position correlated into furthering the divide for the freedom of individual dancing as a form of expression; boundaries are now being created and would essentially create a barrier upon “other” early generation of dancers who went out to gay and black clubs.

Heteronormative boundaries were created early on in disco culture, which highlighted one of the many negative impacts the commercialization of disco had on the average white American. Due to the new influx of attention disco was receiving, disco blew up in pop culture citing the likes of “saturday night fever.”. Disco was white washed through the commercialization of it, its roots were stripped away and sold at a surface level for the general public to consume. The average white American at the time would not understand how disco was rooted and birthed in black, queer, and latin communities. However, disco was still a major step forward, as this created a new avenue for people to be face to face with their own gender sexuality like never before– something not previously present in the public eye.

It is incredibly important to understand how sound and movement evolved through these marginalized communities, and many artists of today would not have the platform or even ability to re-define these sounds if it wasn't for the communities that later evolved to birth what we call house music today. Communities like those of the Detroit and Chicago underground club culture that once again led to a new form of freedom. That being the product of disco.

All graphic and digital art created by Lola Rivero.

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