To say that Nile Rodgers knows a thing or two about disco is, of course, a gross understatement. The legendary producer, songwriter, Chic co-founder and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer is responsible for some of the genre’s biggest hits: “Le Freak,” “I Want Your Love,” “Good Times,” “Everybody Dance,” “We Are Family,” even his 2013 collaboration with Daft Punk, “Get Lucky.”
Rodgers’s roller-skating bonafides might be slightly lesser known (though he is responsible for lyrics like “Clams on the half shell, and roller-skates, roller-skates“). But the musician also happens to be a longtime roller-skater, regularly hitting the rink well into his sixties. Those twin passions — disco and roller-skating — naturally make him the perfect choice to serve as “The Groovemaster” at the recently launched DiscOasis.
Located at the Wollman Rink in Central Park and open now through Oct. 1, The DiscOasis is far more than just a roller-rink. It’s being billed as an “immersive theatrical experience” that includes art installations, live DJs, dancing, games, special performances by professional skaters, playlists curated by Rodgers, and of course, the opportunity to show your stuff on the rink.
The DiscOasis made its debut at Los Angeles’ South Coast Botanic Garden last summer, but this year, it’s headed back where it all began. As the birthplace of disco, New York City was a no-brainer to play host to the roller-disco, and as you skate around Central Park with the city as a backdrop, it’s hard to ignore its rich musical history.
“I’m a lifelong New Yorker and, for me, Central Park was always the place where big things happened — from watching Sly & the Family Stone and Diana Ross, to sharing the first moon landing and the inaugural Earth Day,” Rodgers explained in a statement. “Since The DiscOasis is all about celebrating New York culture, there’s no other place for it to be.”
“The DiscOasis was created as a movement to celebrate community, inclusivity and positivity,” Thao Nguyen, CEO of Constellation Immersive, the company responsible for putting DiscOasis together, added. “We’re tapping New York City’s rich history — both as the birthplace of disco and its longtime connection to the urban roller-skating experience — providing an ideal and unique opportunity to gather again.”
The rink features set pieces designed by Tony Award-nominated David Korins and lighting design by David Weiner, transforming it into a groovy throwback complete with shimmering disco balls, neon lights and an elevated stage area at the center where performers twirl hula hoops and show off their best moves. (The mirrored cacti that decorate other areas of the oasis feel more like leftovers from the Los Angeles installation than anything that makes sense for the New York City edition, but hey, who’s complaining?) Rodgers isn’t physically present as Groovemaster, but his voice blares over the sound system to welcome guests and introduce tracks, and in addition to his curated playlists, each night features a different DJ spinning era-appropriate songs.
The DiscOasis is open Wednesdays through Sundays, and skaters can book either one-hour or three-hour daytime skate sessions or a two-hour “skate under the stars” nighttime pass. Daytime hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. One-hour skate admission during this time costs $23 for adults and $17 for children under the age of 12, while three-hour skates cost $39 for adults and $29 for children. If you’re planning on leaving the kids at home, however, the evening sessions run from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., adults can choose from a $65 general admission pass that includes two hours of rink access or a $119 VIP pass that includes also includes a dedicated check-in line, dedicated skate rental line, access to a VIP area and a DiscOasis “swag gift.” A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales goes to the We Are Family Foundation, a non-profit organization named for the 1979 Sister Sledge hit penned by Rodgers that’s dedicated to creating programs that promote cultural diversity and “mentoring the vision, talents and ideas of young people who are positively changing the world.”
If you’re looking to get the full experience, the evening skate is the way to go. The rink really comes alive once the sun goes down and the lights go on — there’s something about disco that just doesn’t feel right in broad daylight — and the evening pass allows you to hang around before and after your two hours of rink time. Skate rentals are $10, and there are lockers available on site to rent for $7 in case you need to store your shoes and other belongings. There are pros on hand to provide some tips to skating novices (the biggest key to staying upright is to keep those knees bent, apparently), but if you, like me, happen to come to the unfortunate realization that your roller-skating abilities don’t extend beyond glamorous tricks like “desperately clinging to the wall while trying not to fall down” and “flailing around like a baby deer who hasn’t yet learned how its legs work,” there’s also a “non-skater hang pass” available for $29 that might be more your speed.
That might sound like a steep price to pay to not skate at a roller-disco, but there’s plenty to do at DiscOasis that doesn’t involve wheels. There’s a dancefloor area near the DJ booth for folks who prefer to boogie with their feet planted safely on the ground, and seating areas include lawn games like a giant Connect 4. There’s food available for purchase, as well as a bar area where attendees can purchase canned cocktails or cool down with “disco slushies,” which can be made sans alcohol or with a shot of vodka poured in. (If you are going to skate, I personally recommend getting that out of the way before you start drinking. Roller-skates are wobbly enough when you’re sober, and skating with a buzz seems like a recipe for disaster.)
The dancefloor was pretty empty on the night we attended; almost everyone was packed onto the rink. But there’s still something to be said for grabbing a drink, posting up rinkside and taking in the atmosphere. Many of the attendees took it upon themselves to dress in their ’70s best, and the professional skaters perform frequently enough throughout the night that there’s almost always an opportunity to take in an impressive choreographed routine. If roller-skating is your thing, great; you’ll obviously enjoy rolling around under the stars. But even if you don’t intend to skate, The DiscOasis is still a party worth checking out, if only to shake your groove thing and pay tribute to the city’s rich musical history.
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