The future of the disco ball Rite Aid may be dubious, but a new era of roller disco is coming to Greenpoint. Summer 2020 saw a pop-up outdoor roller rink as part of the Greenpoint Terminal Market, and now, locals are taking their love for the socially distant activity to the next level.
31-year-old artist Michael Smith has been skating since he was a kid, growing up in Duck Hill, Mississippi. Unlike Greenpoint, it was a small town and with a population of only 600, and at the time one of the only attractions was a roller rink abut an hour’s drive away. “The rink was a fully wooden rink that played Shania Twain on repeat and overlooked a beautiful pond,” Smith remembers. “I would give anything to bring back the feeling that place brought me as a child.”
While skating solo to bide the time during a pandemic is one thing, skating with a group is what brings so many joy about strapping on a pair of skates. So Smith posted on NextDoor, looking for friends to skate with while listening to disco music. His initial ask received a huge response, and blossomed into a community gathering Smith is now planning for later this spring.
Inspired by the former Greenpoint Roller Palace, and now-closed Rite Aid Smith wanted to bring the joy of roller disco back to the neighborhood. “A disco ball and a couple of architectural features are the only remaining echos of this once joyous part of our neighborhood’s history, and I’m nervous that after construction is over these pieces will vanish,” he said.
While Smith tried securing a parks permit for McCarren Park’s concrete open space at 12th and Bedford Ave, he learned in Mid-March that the NYC Parks department is currently not issuing any sound permits, meaning the Roller Disco as envisioned cannot take place during the pandemic. He had two DJs lined up for the inaugural event, Ashley Hefnawy, to play disco from around the world and Gavin Ryan, to provide an American disco vibe. Emily Knitis, a former derby skater, planned to attend the event, giving tips and possibly lessons for beginner skaters. Smith is also reaching out to local skate shops to see if they would like to get involved.
“My goal now is to bring the community together for a good cause,” Smith said of planning an outdoor Roller Disco. “I want to raise money for The Okra Project, an organization supporting the Black trans community. The black trans and queer community are responsible for bringing disco music into the world, and I think it’s only appropriate to help them in any way we can as we celebrate this iconic music that brings happiness to so many people.”
Originally, Smith is hoped the first Roller Disco Revival event would take place an evening in late March, with a suggested donation to @theokraproject. Now, without permits, Smith isn’t comfortable hosting a large organized event, but encourages locals to meet up and continue skating around the neighborhood, for an eventual Roller Disco Revival in Greenpoint. “I can promise you that as as soon as I am allowed to hold the event it will happen,” he said. Follow Smith on Instagram @TheOnlyMichaelSmith for official updates on the pending event.