Hustle and disco

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Disco dancing on film

There are minimal amounts of disco dancing in the late-1990s films Boogie Nights (opening bar scene), Last Days of Disco, and 54, about the legendary New York studio. Main reference is of course Saturday Night Fever.

By the way, if anybody is interested, Floyd Chisholm & Annette Riveria were the Hustle couple in the (1977) movie 'Roseland'; starring Christopher Walken.

History of Hustle

I recently talked to a couple of dance teachers about the history of (3-count, syncopated, ballroom nightclub, New York, LA?, disco) Hustle. They both said that the dance that we ballroom dancers currently call Hustle came into being in New York, between 1978 and 1982. Both of these teachers said that they were in the New York dance scene to see this happen.

Here the 2 stories diverge. Marie Torres (1993 World Hustle Champion) said that during the disco dance craze of the late 70's there was a new disco fad dance introduced every week. Several of these dances were danced with 4 steps to 4 beats of music and had 4-count patterns. When disco music slowed down, the dancers played with dancing the 4 steps in 3 beats of music. By the early 80s, the 3-count version stuck and became what we now call Hustle. The early versions were counted "&1-2-3", other counting methods are recent aberrations.

The second version of the story also had Hustle evolving from a New York fad dance. But this fad dance was an early form of West Coast Swing called "Latin Hustle" (Why would anyone in New York would call a new dance "West Coast" anything!) This dance had as its basic: "tap, step, coast- er step, walk, walk" with a count of 1-2-3&4-5-6. (same basic as the silly franchise dance studio version of WCSwing with the count offset.) One version of this dance had all the fancy turns and arm work on the last two walks. So the dancers who got bored with the tap-step at the beginning just removed the first 2 weight changes. The first weight change was the tap-step; and the other weight change removed was the first step of the coaster. Since a coaster is "back-together-forward"; when the first step is removed, what's left is "together-forward". So this streamlined new dance was "together-forward-walk-walk" danced to &4-5-6, or the equivalent &1-2-3. This dance was un-slotted (e.g. a rotating dance). Recently, some studios have been re-slotting Hustle to make it easier to teach.

So, historically speaking, Hustle may be a Swing dance derivative, even though it currently has very little in common with West Coast Swing or Eastern Swing dance technique.

"Dance Action" magazine is supposed to have published another history of Hustle somewhere around 1989. Anybody have a copy of the magazine with that article? [Ron Nicholson]

>When Hustle
>caught on here in So. Cal. We were doing a Version called 'Latin Hustle'
>but then We saw Floyd Chisom & Nellie Cotto from New York Dance on the
>Merv Griffin Show & the rest is History. A Pretty Dance done by Dancers
>Who dressed Up & caught 'Saturday Night Fever'. They were great times.
>My favorite song was 'Love Is In The Air' By John Paul Young.
>Kenny Wetzel

Finally, sombody as well-respected as KingKenny started talking about the history of hustle, and give long overdue credits to the pioneer hustle dancers.

The first time I saw N.Y . hustle was in late 1978, which was supposedly 2 years after its conception. My experience in hustle dancing spans over 20 years, but I am certainly not the original creator(s) of the hustle. Back in 1979-81, lot of hustle dancers learned/stole dance moves from the TV show Dance Fever. Every hustle dancer imitated/stole moves from the late Eddie Vega.

Eddie Vega was 17, when he won the Dance Fever Grand Championship. In 1982, Eddie was only 19, when he was a finalist in USBC (U.S. Ballroom Championship), partner with Nellie Cotto. Eddie was again a finalist in 1983 USBC, partner with Lourdes Jones.

Eddie Vega's longtime friend Kenny Gonzales claimed that they (Eddie Vega, Maria Torres, and Kenny) were the ones who started the hustle dance craze in Brooklyn in the 70s. If my arithmetic is right, Eddie was only 13 or 14 when he created the N.Y. hustle. That sounds precociously young age. Eddie did looked like he had a lot of jazz or perhaps ballet training. I doubtfully think that he was trained in east or west coast swing prior to moving to LA in the 80s. My guess is most of his hustle dancing was influenced by Mambo. The foundation step of N.Y. hustle, the cross-body lead, which is the basic step in Mambo, without the additional footwork.

The big question is, did Eddie Vega actually created N.Y. hustle when he only 13 years old? was he coached by somebody?

I am very interested, and very appreciative, if KingKenny or anybody else who has first-hand stories about hustle evolution, and willing to share with the rest us.

By the way, if anybody is interested, Floyd Chisholm & Annette Riveria were the Hustle couple in the (1977) movie 'Roseland'; starring Christopher Walken. The video is available at local video store. [Unknown source]

The Count

Hustle is taught with two different counts: "one two-and three", or "and-one two three". Either way is taught by reputable teachers, and basically there is no difference once you get moving. However, there are a few arguments why the 12&3 method is slightly better to start off the dance. (1) You start on the beat of the music, instead of before it. (2) The &1 motion takes the form of some sort of rockstep for the follower. This is deceptive since, once you're moving, there is no rockstep for the follower. In fact the 3&1 motion is a coaster step, requiring much less of a lead than bringing the follower forward in West Coast Swing. (3) With an 123& count, the leader starts on the right foot, and the follower on the left, which is unusual. (VE) For much more about hustle, see the lead-follow

Hustle commentary by Barry Douglas

Following is a post from Barry Douglas in response to the thread several weeks ago on "Counting Hustle." The post is quite long, but very interesting, as Barry describes music theory as it applies to Hustle, different styles of Hustle, the history of Hustle, applied dance technique, and the "new age" of Hustle.  Barry claims many national championship titles, including 1995 US Hustle champion. He can be reached at 

I'd like to respond to the "counting hustle" thread recently on -- how music, counting, and movement apply to the hustle. First, in music, the designation "3/4" or "4/4" is merely an indicator to signify the "content" and integrity of a *bar* of music. 3/4 means each bar of music "contains" 3 counts of music, and each beat is built with a quarter note increment (or 4 integrity). In 4/4 time, 2 counts equal 1 beat, 2 beats equal 1 bar, 2 bars equal a measure, and 8 measures comprise a "phrase." Since no music has a 16-increment integrity (impossible), the concept of 16/16 time cannot exist. This "theory" was obviously adopted by people with no musical writing concepts.  However, the end result is the same; i.e., 8 measures of 8 counts each is a phrase of music, or 64 counts. 4 measures of 16 counts is also a 64-count phrase. We have two basic theories that get the same result. The difference is that one (4/4 time) is musical writing that has been proven, practiced, and accepted in music theory, and has an established working system. The other (16/16 time) has no basis whatsoever. My inclination is to go with the one that demonstrates the most logic *not* 16/16.  Secondly, I've heard it taught that rhythm dances swing, rhythm & blues, nightclub 2-step are danced in two-beat increments, when in actuality they are danced in two-*count* increments, with the second count having a greater musical intensity, thus becoming the beat indicator or down beat (pulse). Eg., one, TWO, three, FOUR. All dances associated with these music styles move and flow with the beat, pulsing on the even counts.  Hustle music does NOT have this quality. It was rejected by many because each count had the same musical intensity, and, therefore, was "boring and monotonous." Thus, no beat, no pulse.  Thirdly, on the subject of counting, I have been training in many forms of dance for over 30 years. After working in dinner theater, Las Vegas, cruise ships, and after 30 years of competing in Jazz, Swing, Hustle, Ballroom, and Latin, I can honestly say that about 90% of the top-level pros that I have worked with would support the practice of *counting*. I do believe that the more you dance and the better understanding of dance you develop, the less *conscious* effort you put into counting. But this is only once your muscle memory has the sequence of the patterns, and your coordinating skills have been developed to a level that allows you to execute what you've learned with some degree of consistency and accuracy. This process takes much longer than most people think; hence, a lot of bad dancers who don't count, and, unfortunately, ones who think they are wonderful.  Men, just because there are an abundance of women to dance with, and just because they smile and say, "Thanks, that was great," doesn't make you a good dancer. Most women are just happy to dance even with bad dancers because there are 10 times as many women dancing as men. Gents, get a clue. Don't be one of the guys that women dance with just to be polite. And don't let women's polite comments go to your head. Work harder on the basics of dance! Just recently there was a gentleman in one of my beginner classes who was obviously a higher level dancer. He smiled and said he was trying to get pointers on the basics. If we had more men with that attitude, we'd have a much higher level of dance across the board.  Now let's get to the Hustle. The Hustle originated in the early 70s by the Latinos and the Gypsies in southern Florida. They were street dancers looking for some way to dance the hot influence of the Latin rhythms to disco music. Hence, the birth of the Hustle.  A new and beautiful form of movement-music relationship was born. A dance with a 3-count measure danced to 4-count music! This quality is the beauty of Hustle! It is the first dance that does not move with the beat, but cuts through the beat right to the count, with the movement emphasis of each step being equal, like the count base of the music it was designed for. The fact that there were no beat restrictions bore many different styles of Hustle. Some people pulse with the down beat (when dancing to R&B or Pop style music). Some dance it very smooth with accents added occasionally with the flow of the music. And some accent the syncopated count, whether it is a down or up beat. All of these styles are valid.  Like all street dances, there was no rhyme nor reason to it. Unfortunately, even when the studios picked it up, there was no dance analysis to formulate a basis of movement. That's why early Hustle had so many inconsistencies. Besides, it was just a "disco dance" that would surely fade. It was primarily used to segue from lift to drop, etc. So, most Hustle dancers knew a couple of dozen moves. That's all they needed.  When disco died, so did the Hustle in most areas. New York, California, and little-known Michigan were the only places where Hustle could still be found. New York and California styles of Hustle remained the same large steps, long sweeping patterns, and a random basis of movement. These are some of the common flaws found in these styles of Hustle, especially in social dancing.  In Michigan, Hustle was going through a metamorphosis. As all dances must, Hustle was growing and maturing. Any dance that stays the same for 20 years is destined to become "extinct." Now that Hustle is seeing its national rebirth, let's not go back to doing the same illogical things that caused the wonderful dance to die in the 80s. 

THE COUNT. As there can be no dance before the first beat of music, we cannot start on "and 1." All dance (formal) is measured to basic music theory. That is why all dances begin on "1," as all basic music is measured from "1." 

INCONSISTENCIES OF EARLY HUSTLE. All dance starts with some mutuality of movement. It is illogical to start with partners moving away from each other. This teaches the male dancer that it is okay to push his partner back on "and 1" and makes him believe that he should continue to push her back on each ensuing "and 1." This is inconsistent with the rules of good lead-and-follow technique. It also attributes to the familiar "hick-up" step associated with the Hustle. This hick-up is made worse by creating a rock step on the "and 1" where the lady's right foot is placed as a ball step behind her left foot. When the lady is changing her weight and direction of movement in a 1/2-count, this makes keeping up with the pace very difficult, as her weight is between her feet. Again, an incorrect movement technique. Further, "and 1" forces the lady to begin each measure with "1" on her left foot, which is again inconsistent with the formal dance basics (the lady beginning on her right foot and the man on his left on "1"). 

FINAL ANALYSIS. Hustle is a dance built on a 1-count increment, danced in a 3-count measure, and best expressed in 6-count patterns. Let's take a look at a new style based strictly on the technique and logic of good partnering. First, let's measure the dance from "1" to keep it consistent with all other dances. This makes our count "1, 2, and 3." We start the dance with both partners coming forward. That satisfies the problem of mutual movement. If we begin forward on "1" and we apply the rules of good frame (i.e., keeping your partner out of your space while you are in it), creating compression which will cause both partners to move away from each other on "2." If we consider this to be our last movement away from each other, then we would step together on the "and" and forward on the "3." Thus, our basic would be (1) forward, (2) back, (and) together, (3) forward. In just our basic form we have remedied a number of major problems: we have a basic that adheres to all rules of mutual movement and measuring; with development we've stopped the dreaded "hick-up"; we have increased the efficiency of weight transfer during the syncopation by dancing the point of exchange over both feet; and, by making the patterns smaller and adding to our basic by dancing it on the slot, we make the dance more "user friendly" by giving direction and definition to each pattern. This stops the need to push and gives us a solid beginning basic.  Let's go into a more advanced technique of the lady's basic. If a basic begins forward on "1," it should end going *back* on "3." We take the "1" forward and the "2" backward. Place the feet together on "and" but instead of stepping forward on "3" we use it as a forward foot placement that leaves the lady on her right foot on "3" (instead of a step). In order to begin with "1" on the right foot, we syncopate between the "3 and 1." Our count then becomes "1, 2, and 3, and 1, 2, and 3," etc. This gives us the maximum use of our 3 counts:(1) forward, (2) back, (and 3) no body flight.  This is the new age of Hustle. Let's move into the next century with a Hustle that has enough technical merit to survive.  Barry Douglas

Hustle commentary by Skippy Blair

HUSTLE COMMENTARY By Skippy Blair Based on recent reports from the NET. 2/97

It is unfortunate that we cannot have an open "Schoolhouse" for those who have questions concerning MUSIC. If everyone could attend a GSDTA Seminar on Dance Music, we would find a whole new rise in the understanding of dance, and a whole new realm of excitement when people actually FEEL the PULSE of the music.

ALL social dance, with the exception of WALTZ, is danced in "2-Beat" increments. Many wonderful dancers actually pulse to the beat of the music in SPITE of the fact that they do not understand COUNT. Real count is a simple mathematical formula that transports a dancer into the realm of being "ONE with the music". Anything less than that is an imitation of the real thing.

I ask people to point out their favorite HUSTLE dancer. I get different responses, but those selected are always the ones where you can PULSE the dance to the music. Here's the rub. Many dancers do not TEACH the same count that they dance. It's not on purpose. They are teaching the count that they were taught. They do what "everyone" else teaches. There are so many "&123's" out there that some people actually teach Hustle to a WALTZ and then say "adapt that to the Hustle" music.

All of us know dancers who dance a Waltz any time the music is very slow. They cannot distinguish a very slow 4/4 time piece of music from a Waltz. They have a tempo in their mind instead of a Rhythmic Beat. The Rhythmic Beat is the COUNT.

I understand that when you capitalize things on E-Mail that they call it SHOUTING. I am SHOUTING because the answers are so simple and the Net is making it sound so complex.

We would not consider dancing West Coast Swing to a Waltz. It would be ludicrous. If we convinced 50,000 people to dance Swing to a Waltz, it would not make it any less ludicrous. That's what I hear when we discuss Hustle. "50,000 people can't be wrong." I've mentioned before that there was a time in our history when the entire population thought the world was flat. That universal thought did not make the world flat.

4 years ago, I predicted that if the count for Hustle did not change, one day we would all be dancing Hustle to a Waltz. It's happening. The great discovery. We can dance Hustle to a WALTZ. Wake up and smell the roses. It is EASIER to dance a Waltz when we are counting a Waltz rhythm. Counting in any configuration of "3's" IS a WALTZ.

When I dance Hustle with someone, I frequently get a smile and a "Gee, that was fun - That felt GREAT!" That was FUN and felt great because I pulse my body in "2-Beat" increments. It doesn't change the 6 beat count. It doesn't change the pattern. It just dances in "2-Beat" increments instead of "3".

Here's an experiment that can open your eyes if you still can't tell the difference between the "2-Beat" or the "3-Beat" increment. Watch your favorite Hustle dancer. I can think of several that are a delight to watch. Maria Torres - Deborah Hampton - Lori Bradshaw - Martin Parker. Don't try to figure out what they are counting. Each one of those people has a built in "Pulse." Their bodies respond to the music. They are artists in their own right. Their bodies take over when the music starts and they are DRIVEN by the beat of the music. Figure out what their body is doing by counting only the beats of the music. All Hustle music has definite "Sets of 8" beats of music. Find the "8's". Just count the music, emphasizing the Upbeats. Count: "One TWO Three FOUR Five SIX Seven EIGHT." You will find that the dancer's body emphasizes that count. Now try counting "And One two three - and One two three". That's pretty difficult to do to Hustle music.

Teachers seldom play Hustle Music and count out the MUSIC before they teach Hustle patterns. That's the first rule of teaching someone to DANCE TO THE MUSIC. First: Play the Music. Have the student find the "Sets of 8" if the music is 4/4 time - or the "Sets of 6" if it is 3/4 time music.

Most people are Flabbergasted when they finally dance a Hustle to a Waltz, and find that the music really fits if they are counting "&123". If someone counts "&123" and finds that Waltz music does NOT fit the Hustle, they are probably not even counting the Waltz correctly. "&123" is a Syncopated Triple

I have just read over what I have written. Sounds like it's coming from someone who is exasperated. You're right. I try not to pay any attention to the things people send me from the Net because there is so much misinformation out there. My concern is always for the student. There are students out there who don't know WHO to believe or WHAT to believe. The information in the teachings of the Universal Unit Systemx prepare someone to be able to discover for themselves, WHAT is right, rather than be dependent on WHO is right.

Our dancers have been top of the line for so many years - and teachers who attend "Intensive" Seminars report back that they are no longer being pushed and pulled by rhetoric. They can smile when someone tells them that the music is written in 16/16 time. They can laugh when they hear someone say that Hustle is "clearly not phrased to the music". Every dance is very clearly phrased to the music. It is the people who teach the dance without matching the phrasing that need to examine their teaching skills. Top dancers who feel the music, move to the music regardless of what method they use to learn or to teach. Their bodies just get in there and get lost in the music. As observers, we get lost in their marvelous interpretation. The Universal Unit Systemx analyzes what the dancer DOES, not what he says he does. The System examines the differences between the top dancers who always get the "oohs and the aahs", taking 1st, 2nd or 3rd in a contest. The System isolates the difference between those top dancers and the ones who are good, but never quite AS good. The discovery is ALWAYS the musical count. Notice I didn't say sometimes. I said ALWAYS.

Consider that piano player that I mentioned a while back. If he had his OWN count, (&123) and not the same count as the time signature, (4/4 time) he would be out of a job. To me, the DANCER is the lead instrument in the band. The dancer is the one everyone sees. He has to dance to the same drummer as the rest of the band.

A recent post on the Net referred to 16/16 time in Hustle and referred to breaking beats down into 16 beats. Does he think the musicians are stupid? Does he know what 4/4 time means? The top "4" refers to how many beats of music in a measure. The bottom "4" refers to the kind of note that represents a beat of music. Therefore a Quarter Note (4) represents one beat of music and there are four of those in one measure. There are no sixteen beats in 4/4 time except the actual 16 beats in 4 measures of music. The dancer pulses music in "2-Beat" increments and Mini-phrases of 8 beats each. 16 beats of music in 4/4 time is two "Sets of 8". This is the same ratio that we use for West Coast Swing. Do we count West Coast Swing in "3's" ? Unfortunately, on the Net, even that was suggested as a possibility. No one I know took it seriously, but I'll bet there's someone out there who wasn't sure..

GSDTA has a new Video out called "Dance Identification". It was made that explains the difference that is felt and seen when someone identifies actual beats in the music. It shows how each dance fits the music and clears up the questions of where specific dances start. Niteclub Two Step is composed of Triples, starts with a back "Check", pulses the Upbeat and has a Movement Unit that presses the "Center Point of Balance" slightly UP on every beat. Samba has the same Triples, but pulses the Downbeat and the Movement is down on every beat. Cha Cha is composed of 8 beat patterns that match the 8 beat Mini-phrases in the music. The man breaks on "2" with his left foot and "6" with his right foot. Waltz is counted thru "6 beats" of music with the man's left foot starting a new pattern on count "1". This is all standard information that has been available for years. Some of it is just getting around to being recognized. Others won't recognize it until the whole rest of the world says "What are you doing?" Recognizing the difference between Growth and Change is important. Don't resist growth.

A piano player who plays by ear can be a wonderful player, but maybe cannot get a job with a top flight orchestra because he cannot read music. There are piano players who can read music but do not have the talent for feeling and interpretation. There are also talented piano players who study, can read music and also have a feeling for the music and can put it all together. They are the artists of our time. Dance is no different. There is a musical COUNT to every dance. When the pulse of the dance matches the pulse of the music there is MAGIC. There is artistry. There is a feeling of exhilaration, a "oneness" with the music that transports a dancer out of the realm of daily living and into the realm of sheer ecstasy. Why settle for less when that is available?


There is a disco dance called two-step. Outside of disco, people call this nightclub two-step or disco two-step.

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Last modified on: Saturday, October 9, 1999.