Blocks away, you can already hear upbeat dance music pumping through the evening air. As you near the venue, you see people skating in lit up wheels and colorful outfits. One attendee dances with silk fans; another rolls with a glowing purple cape flying behind them. If you think you must have stumbled through a wormhole into the 70s, you’re wrong. The year is 2021, and the roller disco is back.
Last year, as Covid-safe outdoor recreation became more sought after, roller skating videos began to thrive on a variety of social media platforms. Roller skates sold out across the Internet and in stores around the world. But with rinks closed, where would new enthusiasts gather?
According to moonlightrollerway.com, the first roller skating boom took place between 1937 and 1950, but events known as Roller Discos weren’t held until the 1970s as part of the disco fad. These were promoted with movies such as Skatetown USA and Xanadu. While disco music was largely criticized for its repetition, it accompanied the rhythm of roller skating naturally. Nowadays, the title is less defined by the musical genre, but the spirit is all the same.
This tradition has recently been continued in our very own city. Secret Roller Disco began with a couple of friends and a Costco party speaker in a parking garage. Francesca Berrini was one of them. “Honestly, it was 2020, so I really hadn’t left my house hardly at all until the BLM protests started. After showing up for various things around that, and I saw that meeting up outside was something that could be done safely in a pandemic, I wanted the chance to see the people I’d been missing,” Berrini comments. Since then, it has evolved into a weekly event held at Buckman Elementary in Southeast Portland.
Berrini says the disco is a community based affair: “No one is really the leader or anything. We’re all just on the same page of loving putting on the roller disco and doing what we can do each week!” As the disco has grown in popularity, party lights, a fog machine, and live DJs have been added to the mix. “It’s also been super exciting that our DJs have been coming out to play music for everyone!” she states. “At first it was all just a playlist of everyone’s requests set on random shuffle.” Though it may not be as secret as the name states, Secret Roller Disco is a gathering unlike any other. Berrini says that “the best part of the changes is just all the joy surrounding having so many more people being able to come out and have a good time.”
Circumstances change. Terrible things happen. The world may be in constant limbo, but one thing is for certain, and that is that disco never dies.