The Hustle is a catchall name for some disco dances which were extremely popular in the 1970s.
Today it mostly refers to the unique partner dance done in ballrooms and nightclubs to disco music.
It has some features in common with swing dance. Its basic steps are somewhat similar to the Discofox, which emerged at about the same time and is more familiar in various European countries. In the 1970s there was also a line dance called the Hustle. Modern partner hustle is sometimes referred to as New York Hustle. People still do this dance today.
Early Hustle, The very first Hustle was created in late 1972, and did not even have the name the Hustle, and was a 5 step count, with no turns, most people believe it was created in the South Bronx among Puerto Ricans, and was originally done at house parties, hooky gigs and basements club dances in the South Bronx.
By 1974 it became known as "Spanish Hustle" and in 1975 the Fatback Band made a song with that name. It was also known as the "Latin Hustle"; they were both 6 step counts to the beat of the music.
In about 1976 it became known as the New York Hustle, the later it became known as just the Hustle, when the dance became commercialized after the release of Saturday Night Fever in 1977, which was a fictional story about an Italian dancer named Tony Manero from Queens, who was not actually a dancer at all, but a very popular kid from the neighborhood.
Early pioneers of the Spanish Hustle were dancers from the Latin Symbolics Dance Company, founded by George Vascones, who also served as President until his death in 1993. The best of the best during the early days of the Hustle, were Floyd Chisolm, Dante, Jose Dominicano, Willie Estrada, Eddie Ramundi, Willie (Wip) Rivera, Debbie Benitez, Gladys Rodriguez, Maggie Solis, Denise Florentino, all of whom were members of the Latin Symbolics Dance Company, based at 333 East 149th St. in the South Bronx. It was at the Latin Symbolics Studio where Tony Manero, who John Travolta played in the movie Saturday Night Fever, was taught [Tony Manero is a fictional character] to do the original Spanish Hustle, by the Latin Symbolics Dance Team, for a special showcase Tony was going to be doing in Las Vegas in 1977 after gaining popularity after the release of Saturday Night Fever.
The biggest names of Hustle dancers in the late 70's were Eddie Vega who won the Ed McMahon Star Search competition with his partner Lisa Nunziella Hockley, Floyd Chisolm and Nelly Cotto who won the National King and Queen of the Hustle on the Merv Griffin show, and Billy Fajardo & Sandra Rivera who became two time world Champions at the height of their careers in the early 1980s and Franc Reyes and his partner Debbie, who were members of the World Renown Dance Team called the Disco Dance Dimensions. They were all from the Bronx, with the exception of Lisa Nunziella Hockley, who was from Brooklyn, but was trained by Hustle Dancers from the Bronx.
Van McCoy's Song
A line dance which was called Hustle became an international dance craze in 1975 following Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony's song "The Hustle". Tipped off by DJ David Todd, McCoy sent his partner Charlie Kipps to the Adam's Apple discotheque of New York City's East Side. The forthcoming album was renamed Disco Baby and McCoy was named "Top Instrumental Artist" of 1975. When released, the song reached the top of the Billboard Pop Singles chart the week ending July 26, 1975.
Hustle Line Dance
There was also a popular line dance known as The Continental Walk, which was danced to the eponymous record by Hank Ballard; subsequent versions were also recorded by Chubby Checker and Danny & The Juniors. In the Continental Walk dancers dance backwards, then forward, then to the right and then to the left. They jump forward and backward, and click their heels. They do some quick tap steps and then turn to the left to face a new wall. The Continental Walk was the first followed by the Bus Stop which had monthly variations. The Bus Stop was the best known and most frequently performed line dance in the discos of 1976 and 1977. This dance was also referred to as the "LA Bus Stop Hustle."
This line dance was a version of Merengue with steps to rotate the dance direction orientation to another wall. The most popular current version (1980-2008) is called "The Electric Slide".
The original NY mainstream Bus Stop and Hustle trend ended and freestyle took over when recording artists Chic released the song "Le Freak" in 1978. Everyone else in the country started in 1978 after Saturday Night Fever was released.
Depiction in Saturday Night Fever
The 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever showed both the line and partner forms of hustle, as well as something referred to as the "tango hustle" (invented just for that film by the cast, according to the DVD commentary). Afterwards, different line dance and couple dance forms of the Hustle emerged. Although the huge popularity faded quickly as the hype that was created by the movie died down, the hustle has continued and is now a "ballroom dance"; it has taken a place besides swing, cha-cha-cha, tango, rumba, bolero, nightclub two step and other partner dances in America.
New York Hustle
The couple dance form of hustle is usually called "New York Hustle" but frequently referred to by other names including "la hustle" or "latin hustle", it is very similar to the "Detroit hustle" but counted somewhat differently. It has some resemblance to, and steps in common with, swing and salsa dancing. As in the Latin dances, couples tend to move within a "spot" on the dance floor, as opposed to following a line of dance as in foxtrot, or as opposed to tracking within a slot as in West Coast Swing or LA Hustle.
One similarity between hustle and swing is that the lead takes the rock step on his left foot; however, if the dance is taught by counting, the rock step happens at the beginning of the count - "and-one, two, three" rather than at the end of the count as in swing - "left, right, rock-step". This can confuse beginner leads who are used to triple-step swing, because the lead rock-steps on the right side of his "track" in the swing basic but on the left side in the hustle basic.
The dance is somewhat unique rhythmically because of the syncopation it is associated with. Most dances are danced with either 4/4 or 3/4 music with counting to match, with either a triple or duple base depending on the dance. The New York hustle is generally danced to 4/4 music but counted in triple time leading to a somewhat confusing count. "One, two, three-and, four, one, two-and, three, four, one-and, two, three, four-and, one, two, three-and, four, one, two-and etc." Most of the time the dance is simply counted in triple time and the fourth beat accent is ignored or only used every fourth measure to indicate the correct timing of the dance.
Basic - similar to the basic from single-step swing, except rock step is at beginning
Turn - 180° clockwise turn taken between 2 and 3 count, followed by a rock step
Left Turn - 180° counterclockwise turn taken between 1 and 2 count, followed by a rock step
Side Break - lead sends follow out still holding her left hand, then picks her back up
Wheel - couple in double hand-hold pumps arms like a bellows; couple as a whole rotates 180° clockwise
Inside Turn or Loop Turn - similar to the loop turn from swing; follower twirls 360° counterclockwise
Wrap - similar to wrap from the western swing but the footing is the same as a half turn for the hustle
Two hand turn - uses 180° turn footing, before the step the lead takes the followers right hand in his, then proceeds as if completing a wrap but changes back to mirror two hand position half way through the step.
Shell, Niel and John P. Nyemchek, Hustle, Nyemchek Dance Centre, Pearl River, New York, 1999. ISBN 1-929574-00-2
Jones and Kantonen, 1999
Jones, Alan and Kantonen, Jussi (1999). Saturday Night Forever: The Story of Disco. Chicago, Illinois: A Cappella Books. ISBN 1-55652-411-0.
Lustgarten, Karen (1978). The Complete Guide to Disco Dancing: The Easy Step-By-Step Way to Learn Today's Top Dances. United States: Warner Books.
Blair, Skippy ("1998"). Dance Power, Own the Experience. ISBN 0-932980-24-4