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A New Spin on Roller Skating in New York City


On Friday afternoon, Brooklyn Bridge Park will officially open a roller rink at Pier 2, a new five-acre recreation area with fitness equipment, shuffleboard and basketball courts that opened in mid-May.

And on Friday night, Prospect Park’s new rink plans to host the first of its weekly roller skating parties run by Lola Star, whose popular Dreamland Roller Rink closed in Coney Island in 2010. The first party is “Flashdance” themed, complete with a red carpet and circus performers.

With a third rink, this one at Riverbank State Park in Hamilton Heights, also being renovated, New Yorkers who still love going for an old-school spin are wondering if the pastime—which calls to mind preteen birthday parties and 80s icons, such as Olivia Newton-John in the film “Xanadu” or Cher with her roller-themed “Hell on Wheels” video—is making a resurgence in the city.

“I think roller skating is definitely coming back and going to bigger than ever,” said Ms. Star, whose real name is Dianna Carlin. “I feel like people are looking for something to do [at night] without just going out to a bar, something to do when you go on a date.”

Officials at the 85-acre Brooklyn Bridge Park, which also features soccer fields and picnic areas, thought roller skating fit perfectly into the park’s mission—not to mention its facilities.

“We have these great big flat piers and we were looking for wonderful uses that would captivate the widest range of folks to come down,” said Brooklyn Bridge Park president Regina Myer. “Skating is something that really is across age groups and across interest groups.”

And since Pier 2 opened in May, the roller rink has already started to attract visitors in advance of its official opening on Friday.

On a recent sunny weekday, Robert Nicholas, 35 years old, watched his children Diamante Dillon, 7, Damani Brathwaite, 5, and Anaya Dillon, 9, slowly navigate the rink, amused and undeterred by their frequent falls.

“Nothing’s changed,” about the skating experience from when he was a child, Mr. Nicholas said. “It’s a good thing they put this down here for us to get our skate on.”

The 180-foot-long oval rink at Brooklyn Bridge Park is operated by Michael Feiger of New York Skating LLC, a former owner of Empire Roller Skating Center in Brooklyn, which was more than 60 years old when it closed in 2007. The rink will be open daily during the summer from 10 a.m. to 10 or 11 p.m. and will also have evening adult skating sessions accompanied by a DJ.

Roller skating exploded from a childhood pastime to entertainment for grown-ups in the disco era of the 1970s and 1980s. That period “was really the peak of roller skating because disco music is perfect roller skating music,” Mr. Feiger said. “Anything that’s good to dance to is good to skate to.”

But as people turned their attention to other fitness crazes and sports, roller rinks struggled to keep up, particularly with increases in property taxes on their large spaces.

Roller Skating Association International, a trade organization that represents rinks and manufacturers since 1937, estimates there are about 1,200 roller rinks open in the U.S., down from a high of between 1,600 and 2,000 in the 1980s. But its executive director, Jim McMahon, said there is evidence of people lacing up their skates again, with their 800 roller rink members opening 14 new rinks last year, double the number in recent years.

Mr. McMahon said the industry has rebounded by moving to the edges of cities where taxes are lower and investing in sophisticated sound systems and finishes. “It would not be unusual to see one of the nicest sound systems in the community being in the local roller rink,” Mr. McMahon said, “with a lighting system that would be equal to a rock concert.”

It has also helped that the sport has acquired a retro chic vibe as well, Mr. McMahon added, with roller skaters appearing in recent music videos by Cage The Elephant, Avicii and Beyoncé.

The roller skating scene in New York City went through a bit of a slump when three rinks closed within a short period of each other in 2006 and 2007, followed by Dreamland Roller Rink in 2010. In recent years, it has also rebounded with more opportunities to skate in parks and with private clubs.

More than 20,000 people have visited Prospect Park’s Samuel J. and Ethel LeFrak Center since it was converted from a 16,000-square-foot ice rink to a roller skating rink in April. The park is expecting more than 50,000 people to have visited by the time it returns to an ice skating rink in mid-October.

Requests for members of Central Park Dance Skaters Association to choreograph and perform dance skate routines are on the increase lately, as are the number of spectators at the group’s dance circle, which has taken place in Central Park since 1978, said the organization’s President Bob Nichols.

“Roller skating has been there all along, it is the perception of skating in the popular imagination that has changed,” Mr. Nichols said. “There was an assumption that we were frozen in time—in the retro roller disco era—wearing the same outfits and dancing to the same music.”

“The truth is that the culture around skating has continued to evolve along with the rest of the world,” he said.

Skaters at Pier 2—at least those who aren’t looking at the floor trying not to fall—get a view of lower Manhattan, One World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty as they glide around the rink.

Roller skating “really never goes out of fashion,” said rink operator Michael Feiger. “The fun continues to evolve as you get better and better.”

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