A hair salon set in a former church is unexpected. Add a chandelier made of at least 20 disco balls? That’s a good time, says Yoshi Burke, the salon’s owner.
Burke opened the aptly named Disco Salon in the Grant Park neighborhood of Atlanta in March, and though the space is surrounded by stained glass windows, it’s impossible not to gaze at the massive bulbous sculpture held together with industrial chain and metal zip ties.
“I love it,” Burke said. “The sun comes up on the side, and it moves and illuminates these two stained glass windows beautifully, and hits this structure and the light just gets everywhere.”
There’s a disco ball revival taking place. After being relegated to kitschy party decor or retro bars, disco balls can now be found adorning weddings, TikTok home decor videos and housewares stores both high (as melted sculptures for Kelly Wearstler) and low (as planters on Etsy).
And where there’s a trend, there’s an emoji: the disco ball version was released by Apple in March.
Libby Rasmussen, a social media and marketing director who lives in Washington, D.C., always had an affinity for disco balls. Photos of them perched on a windowsill in her home would catch her followers’ attention on Instagram and she frequently fielded questions about where they, too, could purchase disco balls.
“One day during the pandemic, I was like, maybe I should start selling them,” said Rasmussen. She contracted with a wholesaler and set up the LivingColorfully Etsy shop where she offers five sizes of disco balls (the largest is “the Grace” at 24 inches).
“The first day I opened the Etsy shop I got 40 orders,” Rasmussen said. “And then it was 400 orders. And then it was a couple thousand. So it just really catapulted into something crazy. It was really, I think, the right place, right time.”
She sold about 5,000 disco balls within a year, Rasmussen said, and business is still booming.
The interest doesn’t seem to be slowing down. According to Etsy, searches for “disco ball” increased nearly 400% during the past three months, compared to the same time period last year.
Though disco balls are associated with the 1970s, they actually go further back. According to Matthew Yokobosky, senior curator of fashion at the Brooklyn Museum, mirror balls were used in 1920s nightclubs.
“It was an inexpensive way to create a lot of atmosphere,” said Yokobosky, who curated the exhibit “Studio 54: Night Magic,” which ran in 2020. “You have a disco ball, you shine a light on it, and suddenly the entire room is covered in dots of light that are moving. So you get a lot of bang 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, said Yokobosky. The balls allowed them to decorate on a tight budget, and as disco music became more popular, so did the disco ball.
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 a part of nightlife, and tucked inside of our apartments, and hanging from our windows, and sitting in the soil of our house plants,” said Sophie Peoples, an artist from Oakland, California. “Oftentimes, queer and trans people are kind of the creative pavers of what’s on-trend, and it just sometimes takes everyone else a little bit longer to catch up.”
Peoples, who uses gender neutral pronouns, is a graphic designer and prop stylist by trade, and started selling fruit-shaped disco balls in their Etsy shop, called GoodDoggie, last year.
“What I think is so special about disco balls is they kind of have this aliveness to them that you can’t really recreate in any other way,” they said.
Creating joy at home led Christine Obiamalu, a communications professional by day and musician by night, to purchase two disco balls for her Brooklyn, New York, apartment. She works from home and her disco balls usually catch light around 4 p.m., as her work day is ending.
“It definitely gives me a burst of energy to be like, ‘Oh yeah, the sun is out. Things are good. Everything’s fine,’” Obiamalu said. “Gives me a little sense of euphoria.”
Fans of disco balls also suspect that a resurgence of 1970s pop culture, fashion and music has led to this moment. “I do think there are other cultural shifts that are going on that also play into the return of 1970s design,” said Kate Reggev, an architect and historian at Zubatkin Owner Representation in New York.
“There’s a decadence and exuberance in shapes and materials — shiny metals like brass and chrome, bright patterns and bold tones like orange and avocado green — that speaks to people’s interest today in moving away from the cozy, homey, comforting spaces we craved during the heat of the pandemic,” Reggev added.
“I think people are looking for ways to celebrate again,” Yokobosky said. “They’re looking for moments of joy.”
And sometimes, evoking joy is as simple as shining a light on a sphere covered in mirrored tiles.