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Dance is a global phenomenon. But in the early years it was chiefly in the United Kingdom that dance grew into a successful industry while in the United States – the cradle of dance – the genre failed to break into the mainstream for a long time. Why was dance embraced much more quickly in the UK than in the United States?

DJ playing music

Sociologists Rens Wilderom and Alex van Venrooij have investigated this difference and concluded that various 'crises opened up the possibilities for dance in the UK but closed them in the United States.

Market shares compared

Between 1985 and 2005, the genres of 'house' and 'techno', originating from the US, had an average market share of 8% in the British charts, while in the US this share remained below 1%. In the same period 489 house and techno artists made their debuts in the British charts while just 23 artists made their debut in the US – and most of them were not actually American. In total, including the house and techno spin-offs, electronic dance music accounted for an average of 20% of the hits in the British charts, while the figure for the US was just 7%.

Sociologists Rens Wilderom and Alex van Venrooij of the University of Amsterdam have investigated this difference with the help of a qualitative and quantitative data analysis for the period 1985-2005, and present an explanation for why this happened.

Local scenes in America

Wilderom and Van Venrooij observe that the rapid rise and fall of disco in the United States triggered the creation of various local dance music scenes. The crisis of disco led to these being isolated from the mainstream music industry. Together with a music environment dominated by major record companies, and a reluctance of key actors within local scenes to work with these established companies, this inhibited the transition to a successful genre industry in the US. As such, American electronic dance music remained locally organised and peripheral.

Taking off in the UK

American electronic dance music found more fertile ground in the UK. This was partly because the actors in the American scene actively sought collaboration abroad, in the form of licence deals with British record companies, in order to strengthen their own positon. At the same time, the independant music scene in the UK was destabilising due to the falling popularity of post-punk music. Clubs, labels, record companies and music journals were seeking undiscovered, non-commercialised music scenes and in this quest they also looked to America.

Two mutually dependent genre paths

In their analysis, Wilderom and Van Venrooij show that the two genre paths – one a relative failure and one successful – were mutually dependent. The peripheral position of electronic dance music in the US proved to be a positive factor for it being welcomed by key figures in the UK. Therefore, push and pull factors created a cross-pollination between the local American dance music scenes and the British media and the British music scene. This overlap enabled the development of a new, transnational electronic dance music scene.

dr. A.T. (Alex) van Venrooij

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Programme group: Cultural Sociology