Don’t let the Hustle grind you down (1976)

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Don’t let the Hustle grind you down

by Peter McCabe

If you haven’t yet caught Hustle fever, you will. It is as infectious as Asian flu. It was born about 18 months ago, though nobody seems to know where. The black dance clubs and the gay haunts are both claiming credit. Discotheques now give free lessons in it, which suggests that the country’s dance instructors may have had something to do with its origins.

Disco music, or music to Hustle by, has had a big impact on the record industry. Many new records now become well-known first through disco exposure rather than radio. And the dance is not confined to any age group or class. It is everywhere, and it seems to be taking over.

>> Get in the groove! Download the original song here: “The Hustle”

A few months ago, I opened the magazine section of a Sunday newspaper and read an official heraldry of what was termed a phenomenon. The article declared that “this new dance, The Hustle, marks the end of the free-expression dancing era where your partner was often five or six feet away. Now there is no ad-libbing and no faking it. Either you hustle or you sit.”

Now although I consider the Hustle to be an enjoyable dance, which can be executed simply or with amazing complexity, I’m the kind of person who objects to being told what to do on a dance floor. So I decided to check out discotheques at both ends of the country — and in a few cities in between. In some spots I witnessed what I would call a well-balanced mixture of dancing, some Hustling, some not.

But in New York and California, I noticed that the Hustlers adopted a different strategy. On the dance floor, they all seemed to come to the same conclusion at the same time, and by a process of what seemed like osmosis, they all suddenly formed a line. This line eventually broke down into several smaller linear formations, but it nonetheless had its desired effect — which was to drive all the non-Hustlers off the floor and into the safety and comfort of the bars, where they sat nursing their drinks and glowering at the rhythmic, coordinated and victorious opposition. Needless to say, it is not much fun sitting in a bar when you can be dancing to Labelle’s “Voulez-Vous Couchez Avec Moi.”

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Now since Hollywood and New York have been known on previous occasions to foist their examples on others, this trend puzzled and depressed me. I have always believed that the way most of us danced in the late ’60s was a most exciting, pleasurable and even liberating experience. After several years of Twists and Bristol Stomps and Mashed Potatoes, it was a welcome epoch of laissez-faire. And it was especially welcomed by men (at least white males), who by and large began to take a new pride in the sensual movement of their bodies.

So I paid a visit to a friend, a disco Dee Jay, and told him of my feelings on the subject. He said that he, too, had noticed this tendency for Hustlers to browbeat the non-Hustlers, and for non-Hustlers to be overcome with remorse on encountering a room full of heel-toe, heel-toeites. He said the Hustle was never intended to be dictatorial, pointing out that one of the earliest and most popular Hustle records was a song called “Do It Any Way You Want.” He thought that message spoke for itself.

I said that I thought most of the people who danced the Hustle ritualistically in the discos had rather bored, vapid and expressionless faces when they danced. He agreed, adding that he’d been especially amused one night to see a middle-aged man unconcernedly do the Freddie for a solid hour, although surrounded by Hustlers. The man cleared enough space for a truck.

“Should non-Hustlers resist doing the Hustle?” I asked him.

“You cannot fight it,” he said with a shrug, “but perhaps the best policy is to know how, and then do exactly what you want.”

That sounded like good advice, rather like knowing karate. It’s there when you need it, even if you never have to use it. So here is the basic Hustle step, which is all one really needs to know, and has been seen being executed by both Jackie Onassis and David Bowie, though not together.

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Your music list

For practice I would recommend the following albums:

1) Dance Your Troubles Away by Archie Bell and the Drells (TSOP)
2) Happy ‘Bout The Whole Thing by D.D. Sharp (TSOP)
3) Disco Reggae by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires (Mercury)
4) Heat of the City by Barrabas (Atlantic)
5) Save Me by the Silver Convention (RCA)

If you’d rather just buy singles, you could choose from:

1) “It Only Takes a Minute” by Tavares (Capitol)
2) “What a Difference a Day Makes” by Esther Phillips (Motown)
3) “Fly, Robin, Fly” by the Silver Convention (RCA)
4) “Let’s Do the Latin Hustle” by Eddie Drennin (Friends & Co.)

Within half an hour, you won’t even be looking at your feet.

How to do the hustle

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