A hair salon set up in an old church is unexpected. Add a chandelier made of at least 20 disco balls? It’s a good time, says Yoshi Burke, the salon’s owner.
Burke opened the aptly named Disco Salon in Atlanta’s Grant Park neighborhood in March, and although the space is surrounded by stained glass, it’s impossible not to gaze at the huge, bulbous sculpture held together by an industrial chain and fasteners metallic.
“I love it,” Burke said. “The sun comes up from the side, and it moves and illuminates these two stained glass windows beautifully, and hits this structure and the light enters everywhere.”
There is a disco ball renaissance underway. After being relegated to kitschy party decor or retro bars, disco balls now grace weddings, TikTok home decor videos and homeware stores both high (like melted down sculptures for Kelly Wearstler) and low. (like planters on Etsy).
And where there’s a trend, there’s an emoji: the disco ball version was launched by Apple in March.
Libby Rasmussen, a social media and marketing manager who lives in Washington DC, has always had an affinity for disco balls. Photos of them perched on a windowsill in her home caught the attention of her Instagram followers and she frequently asked about where they too could buy disco balls.
“One day during the pandemic, I thought to myself, maybe I should start selling them,” Rasmussen said. She contracted with a wholesaler and started the Etsy store LivingColorfully where she offers five sizes of mirror balls (the largest is “Grace” at 24 inches).
“The first day I opened the Etsy shop, I received 40 orders,” Rasmussen said. “And then it was 400 orders. And then it was a few thousand. So that really catapulted into something crazy. It was really, I think, the right place, the right time.
She sold about 5,000 disco balls in a year, Rasmussen said, and business is still booming.
The interest does not seem to wane. According to Etsy, searches for “disco ball” are up nearly 400% in the past three months, compared to the same time last year.
Although disco balls are associated with the 1970s, they actually date back further. According to Matthew Yokobosky, senior curator of fashion at the Brooklyn Museum, disco balls were used in nightclubs in the 1920s.
“It was a cheap way to create a lot of atmosphere,” said Yokobosky, who curated the “Studio 54: Night Magic” exhibit, which ran in 2020. “You have a disco ball, you turn on a light on it, and suddenly the whole room is covered in moving dots of light, so you get a lot of money for your little disco ball.
In the 1970s, disco balls were used by black and gay underground clubs that didn’t necessarily have funds for high-tech lighting, Yokobosky said. The balls allowed them to decorate on a tight budget, and as disco music became more popular, the disco ball became increasingly popular.
For some, disco balls are inseparable from gay nightlife. “Being in the queer community, disco balls have kind of always been a part of that culture and nightlife, and tucked inside our apartments, hung from our windows, and sat in the soil of our plants. indoors,” said Sophie Peoples, an artist from Oakland, Calif. “Often queer and trans people are sort of the creators of what’s trending, and sometimes it takes everyone a little longer to catch up.”
Peoples, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, is a graphic designer and props designer by trade, and started selling fruit-shaped disco balls on her Etsy shop, called GoodDoggie, last year. “What I think is so special about disco balls is that they kind of have this liveliness that you can’t really recreate any other way,” they said.
Creating joy at home led Christine Obiamalu, a communications professional by day and a musician by night, to buy two disco balls for her apartment in Brooklyn, New York. She works from home, and her disco balls usually come on around 4 p.m., as her working day comes to an end.
“It definitely gives me a burst of energy to be like, ‘Oh yeah, the sun is out. Things are good. It’s all good,'” Obiamalu said.
Disco ball fans also suspect that a resurgence in 1970s pop culture, fashion and music led to this moment. “I think there are other cultural shifts going on that are also playing into the return of 1970s design,” said Kate Reggev, architect and historian at Zubatkin Owner Representation in New York.
“There is a decadence and exuberance in shapes and materials – shiny metals like brass and chrome, brilliant patterns and bold tones like orange and avocado green – that speak to people’s interest of today to get away from the cozy, welcoming and comforting spaces we craved during the heat of the pandemic,” added Reggev.
“I think people are looking for ways to celebrate again,” Yokobosky said. “They are looking for moments of joy.”
And sometimes, evoking joy is as simple as shining a light on a sphere covered in mirrored tiles.