During the 1970s rock music dance clubs became extremely popular. Young people, wearing polyester bell-bottoms and platform shoes, lined up outside popular clubs for a chance to enter dance floors lit with bright, pulsing lights and dance to recorded music with a pounding beat. Disco was the word that described the clubs, the music, the dance style, and the fashions that grew out of the scene.

A discotheque is a dance club that plays music on records, or discs, rather than having a live band. Discotheques got their start in Paris, France, during World War II (1939–45), when France was occupied by the German army. In an effort to control rebellious young people, the Germans made popular jazz music illegal, so many French youth gathered in secret clubs to dance to recordings of the music they loved. One of these clubs was called La Discotheque. In the 1960s Paris was also the home of another internationally famous discotheque, the Whiskey a Go-Go, which loaned its name to go-go boots, short, white boots popular among mod women, and go-go dancers, who performed in nightclubs.

Disco dancing gained tremendous popularity during the 1970s. Young people of the times often felt overwhelmed by the social problems around them, and they sought a more carefree lifestyle. Dancing became a favorite leisure activity. Unlike the dance clubs of previous times, disco dance clubs attracted people of mixed racial and sexual orientations. People of color and whites, gays and heterosexuals alike danced to driving rhythms, often created by drum machines. Disc jockeys, or deejays, mixed the records on two or three turntables to make each song last as long as possible. As the popularity of the dancing clubs grew, major record companies began to seek out and record disco artists, even releasing long-playing records to duplicate the deejays' long versions of songs.

John Travolta in a scene from the trendsetting 1977 disco film Saturday Night Fever. Reproduced by permission of .

In 1977 the film Saturday Night Fever was released, starring John Travolta (1954–) as a young working-class man who seeks love and success on the disco dance floor. The popularity of the movie Saturday Night Fever and its soundtrack with songs by the Bee Gees helped spread the disco craze around the world.

When disco grew to mass popularity by the late 1970s, those who wanted to be hip turned to new forms of music. An anti-disco craze began at the same time, with rock radio stations leading a "Disco sucks!" campaign. By the early 1980s most experts declared that disco was dead. Though many people lump disco in with bell-bottoms and leisure suits as another tasteless 1970s fad, disco has survived into the twenty-first century in different forms of driving dance music such as electronica, techno, house, and Latin freestyle.

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