From ballroom to disco: a look at the history and evolution of dance music

From ballroom to disco: a look at the history and evolution of dance music

While many of the genres we’ve looked at in this series can be dated back many decades, even as early as the early 1900s, dance music perhaps has the most interesting and unexpected origins.

As its name suggests, dance music’s main purpose is to create an atmosphere for dancing, and so the earliest forms of this can be traced back to ancient Greek times, even though, of course, music was centuries away from being recorded. This is seen through carvings on walls and vases showing musicians playing and people dancing. The earliest form of notated dance music dates back to the medieval and baroque period of classical music, which later led to a love of waltzing.

The evolution of dance music was very gradual until the 1900s when ballroom dancing became a popular social event. In 1930s America, swing music came to prominence; the 50s saw rock ’n’ roll; R’n’B and soul was the genre of choice in the 60s; before funk, hip hop and disco – which focused heavily on the rhythm sections, or the beat – evolved in the 70s. From the 80s onwards, dance music has relied mainly on electronic sounds.

Stayin' Alive through the years: a brief history of disco music

This electronic style came on the back-end of disco’s popularity, borrowing similar elements, but using them in a computerised or synthesised way. Key components found in electronic dance music (EDM) are looping and sampling, which were first pioneered by hip hop DJs. Its repetitive nature, along with the explosion of home-based computers, led to the birth of trance, techno and house music. EDM also infiltrated post-punk rock at the same time, leading to the new wave movement.

Subgenres were spawning at a rapid rate, and the 90s saw huge success in pockets of the dance music world, such as Fatboy Slim and The Chemical Brothers, hardcore dance band The Prodigy, electronica act Basement Jaxx, and eurodance acts like Eiffel 65.

The 2000s saw the evolution from garage to grime, where Dizzee Rascal was a front-runner. Dubstep, and drum and bass also became globally popular genres, with acts such as Pendulum, whose 2005 album Hold Your Colour becoming the biggest selling drum and bass album of all time, while Skrillex (and James Blake in the 2010s) dominated the dubstep realm.

The history behind soul music - the precursor to modern R'n'B

Dance music was infiltrating rock music again, with a short-lived new rave scene, where UK band The Klaxons merged electronic dance music with indie rock.

Dance pop became huge with tracks like Kesha’s Tik Tok, and Lady Gaga’s Poker Face being global sensations, kick-starting a whole host of singers to follow suit, while EDM artists David Guetta, the late Avicii, and LMFAO became household names with their own brand of euphoric dance music.

In more recent years, tropical house has been gaining popularity, most notably in the works of K-pop sensations Kard, which is sure to be a trend for the next few years.

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Recommended listening:

Donna Summer – I Feel Love

Eiffel 65 – Blue (Da Ba Dee)

Fatboy Slim – Right Here, Right Now

Armin Van Helden – You Don’t Even Know Me

Basement Jaxx – Romeo

Dizzee Rascal – Bonkers

Kesha – Tik Tok

LMFAO – Party Rock Anthem

What are the origins of Hip Hop and what tracks should you be listening to?

Recommended viewing:

10 Years of Dance Music: The Documentary

Generation of Sound – Early 90s Rave Documentary

What is ... reggae?

Recommended reading:

Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Culture and Dance Music by Simon Reynolds

Beyond the Dance Floor: Female DJ’s, Technology and Electronic Dance Music Cultu re by Rebekah Farrugia

Edited by Nicole Moraleda 

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
What is … dance?


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