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Inside Recent York’s Throwback Roller-Skating Extravaganza

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To some people, a roller rink is just a spot to skim around in a circle, not even very fast, going nowhere. But to its devotees and to the creators of the DiscOasis, a recent skate experience in Central Park, it’s transformational, spiritual — time travel on 4 wheels.

On Saturday night, greater than a thousand skaters packed Wollman Rink, laced up their quads and spun off into sparkling nostalgia. Spotlights shone onto the encircling trees, as a concert-level light show bathed the space in cyan, fuschias and golds. “Good Times,” that Nineteen Seventies party staple, blared from D.J. Funkmaster Flex’s booth, as the gang — some wobblies, some more expert — parted for the professionals: One roller dancer in flared jeans dropped to a split, while one other flipped off her wheels, uncoiling right into a headstand. For 10 minutes, it was all hot pants and acrobatics, after which regular Recent Yorkers — many with a method not far-off — slid back in.

Hovering over this opening night like a sequined demigod was Nile Rodgers, the Chic guitarist, funk-disco eminence and lifelong skater. He curated music for the DiscOasis, and, with voice-over introductions, provides its cultural through line from Nineteen Seventies and ’80s Recent York, when he used to frequent the town’s now shuttered, once legendary rinks with Diana Ross and Cher. Kevin Bacon and Robert Downey Jr. too. (The ’80s were wild.) With some skill on wheels, “You are feeling like you’ve gotten special human powers,” Rodgers said in a recent video interview. “You are feeling like you’ll be able to fly.”

Roller skating is having one other flash of recognition, however the DiscOasis sets itself other than the town’s other rinks and pop-up events (Rockefeller Center is temporarily hosting wheelers, too) through its production value, theatricality and pedigree. There’s blossoming disco balls as big as eight feet in diameter, and a multitiered stage, created by the Tony-nominated set designer David Korins, who did “Hamilton” and shows for Lady Gaga. The forged of 13 includes legends of Recent York roller disco, just like the long-limbed skater often known as Cotto, a fixture within the city’s parks for greater than 4 many years, whose signature leg twirls and pivots have influenced scores of skaters.

“We call it jam skating,” he said. the DiscOasis coaxed him out of retirement — he’s had each hips replaced — for choreographed shows, five nights every week.

The energy is ecstatic, and infectious. “Being on wheels is paradise to me,” said Robin Mayers Anselm, 59, who grew up going to Empire Skate, the storied Brooklyn emporium. “I feel more connected to myself and my spirit after I skate.”

That’s true even for the newbies, like Robin L. Dimension, an actress wearing an embellished jumpsuit and a chunky “Queen” necklace along with her psychedelic-patterned skates. “I got a extremely nice outfit,” she said, “so I look good happening.”

Billed as “an immersive musical and theatrical experience,” the DiscOasis began last yr outside of Los Angeles, the pandemic brainchild of an events company led by a C.A.A. agent. But its foundational home was all the time Recent York, and it should be open each day through October.

“For us, DiscOasis is a movement, it’s a vibe — we wish as many individuals to have the ability to experience it,” said Thao Nguyen, its executive producer, and chief executive of Constellation Immersive, its parent company, which partnered with Live Nation and Los Angeles Media Fund to stage the series.

For Recent York’s skate community, it’s at first a very good floor. “You recognize, we’re not impressed by the accouterments of the illusion,” said Tone Rapp Fleming, a Recent York native and skater for 50 years, who got here for a preview on Thursday. That’s mostly because ride-or-die skaters like him and his friend Lynná Davis, vice chairman of the Central Park Dance Skaters Association, would skate on a trash can lid, as she put it. But they praised the rink’s glidable recent surface, painted in primary shades of blue, yellow and red.

The DiscOasis’s creators knew that in the event that they won over the old-school skate crew, the world would follow; Davis, an ageless wonder in rainbow-flecked braids and custom bejeweled, be-fringed wheels, helped with casting. “Work it out, kids!” she cheered on the younger dancers, as they cartwheeled their routine, to a soundtrack that spun from Queen to “Rapper’s Delight.”

Rodgers created the playlists for the performances, which occur throughout the night, interspersed with live D.J.s. (the daytime is for more relaxed skating). A longtime Recent Yorker, Rodgers coined his skate style as a 12- or 13-year-old on a temporary sojourn in Los Angeles, when he tore up the town with other kids, performing little routines. “I had this wobbly leg way of skating,” he said. He still does, “although I’m going to be 70. And it looks cool.”

His crew stood out even then: “We used to skate to jazz,” he said, recalling their grooves to the guitarist Wes Montgomery’s 1965 classic “Bumpin’ on Sunset.”

Fast forward 30 years, and Rodgers had largely hung up his skates. But he has been so energized by his association with the DiscOasis, which approached him for the Los Angeles event, that it reignited his devotion. Now on tour in Europe, he has been conjuring minirinks wherever he goes, one hotel ballroom at a time.

“They lift up the rugs for me and create an enormous dance floor,” he said. “I can skate in somewhat square. There’s no person in there, because I skate at such weird hours — 4 or 5 within the morning.” (He doesn’t sleep much. As befits a disco-era fashion legend, he also has personalized skates — orange, green, iridescent — which got stuck in customs on their solution to Europe. His favorite are a classic pair of black Riedells.)

Even for somebody well-versed in skate culture, the Los Angeles version of the DiscOasis offered some lessons. Most skaters only follow the rink for about 45 minutes, Rodgers said. The space around Wollman has a non-skate dance floor and a couple of Instagram-ready installations inspired by his music. The large half-disco ball filled with oversize wedding bouquets, pearls and askew mannequin legs, for instance, is presupposed to symbolize Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” which he produced.

For Korins, the production designer, the space is a Studio 54 throwback, but more energizing. “We’re leaning into this oasis idea — when you take into consideration mirrored balls and foliage coming together to have a baby, that’s what we’re making,” he said. (Think discofied palm trees and cactuses.) And the Central Park location, with the Manhattan skyline rising above it, brings its own magic. “It takes all the perfect things about roller skating and disco and it literally rips the roof off,” he said.

Like other skate habitués, Korins has a theory about why it stays to addictive. “It’s really hard to seek out an experience in life that’s each kinetic and dynamic,” he said — you’ll be able to flex your solo style and in addition get the communion of “an organism moving around together.”

Shernita Anderson, the choreographer, saw that in motion. For solos, the forged was by itself. “We were like, ‘Go off, live your best life!’” she said. “And that’s what they did.”

Pirouetting and high-kicking his way through the act was Keegan James Robataille, 20, a musical-theater-trained dancer who only began skating two years ago as a pandemic outlet. A swing in the corporate, that is his first skilled, contracted gig. He grew up near a rink in Amsterdam, N.Y. “I remember going there all throughout middle school and being like, ‘Wow, I wish I could skate backwards and do these cool tricks,’” he said. “And here I’m performing in Recent York City, doing what little me would have dreamed of doing.”

A closing number — set to Donna Summer’s “Last Dance,” naturally — got here on and he sailed away for his cue. It had the skaters in capes dotted with LEDs, like luminescent butterflies.

“I even have never seen anything like this in Recent York,” said Samantha O’Grady, a 24-year-old native. The rinks she began learning in any respect closed “by the point I used to be a tween,” she said, however the retro ambience of the DiscOasis gave her a flicker of how the scene looked before her time. “I sent an image to my mother; she was so jealous.”

First-time visitors were already planning to turn out to be regulars, like Robbin Ziering, whose wedding was on wheels. “We like to work, we love to bop, we love music — but we live to skate,” she said. “And that’s what it’s all about.”

Kalia Richardson contributed reporting.

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