Disco, Freestyle and Rock n Roll
From the mid-twentieth century, new forms of social dance embraced and embodied the spirit of the age. Drawn initially from America and influenced by its films and popular music, these dances quickly evolved and became ingrained in British youth culture.
Some dances, such as rock ’n’ roll, were for couples; others, such as the loosely termed ‘disco’, made manifest the new gender independence of the participants. Although they all had distinctive movement material and performance characteristics, unlike most other social dance forms they were essentially improvised. They were, therefore, much more ‘open’ in their steps and stylistic execution than the formal dances of the ballroom; they were, in essence, ‘free style’.
In order to cater for the popularity of these dances and provide opportunities for safe and effective teaching, in 1988 a brand new Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing Disco Freestyle committee was formed by pioneers and joint Chairmen Peggy Spencer MBE, Sydney Francis and Anne Lingard. The popularity and standard of disco dancing was increasing rapidly, both in society and in the studios, but there was a need for a system which could provide teachers with sound knowledge and technique. Disco/Freestyle/ Rock ’n’ Roll (DFR) committee members produced workshops, seminars and festivals to help teachers to learn the popular steps so they could work with confidence and in safety. The committee established a thorough examination structure at various levels, initially in Disco Freestyle, for both amateurs and professionals.
The release of the film Saturday Night Fever (1977) in the UK injected new impetus to ‘disco’ dancing and motivated enthusiastic teachers to attend workshops so that they could learn and teach the new dance craze. The first teachers’ workshop took place in 1978. Held at the Hammersmith Palais, it was organised and presented by Peggy Spencer MBE, Michael Stylianos, Anne Lingard and Pat Thompson. Teachers welcomed the new popular style of dance and were stimulated by the choreography. They offered classes in the
Disco Freestyle or just ‘Freestyle’, the term used often by the Society’s younger generation of participants, has evolved since its first workshop in 1978. Today, movement content such as fast and powerful runs, leaps, spins, splits, super high kicks, intricate foot and arm patterns, allied with flexibility, speed, control, agility and projection, are all part of the performance presentation.
A Disco Freestyle competitor will take pride in having immaculate presentation of superb choreography, individual personality and an abundance of stamina.
Rock ’n’ roll was one of the earliest dances of youth culture. It first emerged in America, where it evolved from or shared similar characteristics with the Lindy Hop, swing dance and jive. It grew in popularity after Bill Haley’s hit recording of Rock around the Clock in 1956. Haley performed in Britain in 1957, heralding what came to be known as the ‘American invasion’ in both music and dance. The dance requires sound technique, core strength, stamina and impeccable timing. Its movement material includes kicks, flicks, lifts, jumps, turns, flips and throws. Many teachers still teach rock ’n’ roll as a social dance but it is also a Society competition dance in its own right, where it is performed in couples, formation teams or by individuals in a chosen ‘Set Dance’ for the Society area medalist events. The Faculty offers a syllabus and examinations in rock ’n’ roll for both amateurs and professionals who can engage with these at all levels.
The origins of Country and Western can be traced back to the early/mid nineteenth century when emigrants from Europe moved across America to settle in the west. The working life of the cowboy was also hugely influential on the development of the many styles that comprise the genre.
Just as the film Saturday Night Fever created the huge interest in disco dancing, many believe the song Achy Breaky Heart recorded by Billy Ray Cyrus back in 1993 can be credited for the recent popularity of Country and Western dancing, especially Line Dancing. Classes in the latter have become very popular with the public and can now be found in nearly every town in the UK.
Country and Western Line and Couples dancing was first introduced to Society members in 1994. Peggy Spencer MBE and her team taught a programme of dances which included the Electric Slide, Cotton Eyed Joe (Couples), Slapping Leather and the Tush Push.
In May 1996 the DFR Faculty presented the very first Country and Western workshop and further events followed. Top choreographers and teachers from both the USA and UK such as Angelique Fernandez, Jo Thompson, Rob Fowler, Maggie Gallagher, Peter Metelnick and Kate Sala have made an important contribution to enhancing knowledge and skills in the various styles. With a syllabus conceived and written by Jean Cantell, the DFR Faculty has established a complete amateur medal test system and professional qualifications covering Country and Western Line, Partner and Freestyle couples.
The title of the DFR Faculty genre previously known as 'Street Dance and Commercial Hip Hop' has been shortened to Street Dance. An approachable dance form, Street evolved from popular culture and social dance in America during the 1970s and it has since spread internationally through film and music.