Lace up and party down at the newly resurfaced Skate Dance Plaza

By Christina Campodonico

Scenes from Skate Dance Plaza’s July 14 grand reopening
Photos by Jason Ryan (@jasonryanphoto)

Roller dancing on Venice Beach sparked a sensation of the disco era — Remember “Xanadu and “Roller Boogie”? — that’s coming back into fashion in the age of Instagram. But for true believers, it’s always been a way of life.

This weekend the nonprofit Venice Beach Skate Dance Association celebrates the recent resurfacing of Skate Dance Plaza with a Friday night skate, Saturday afternoon skate dance showcase, and a Saturday night roller disco party followed by an attempt to break the unofficial world record for longest serpentine skate.

“We’re kind of skating sideways, if you will,” explains Venice Beach Skate Dance Association Vice President Pamela Pine. “We have to keep our hands linked… we can’t let go, and we have to have over 105 skaters.”

But the celebration also has a bigger cause — the entire weekend is themed “Skate Against Hate and Violence” — a “timely” theme, says Pine, with roots in San Francisco’s Skate Against Violence roller movement and the Venice group’s own history. When one of their own fell victim to a violent hate crime back in the ’90s, Pine recalls, the group organized a “Skate Against Hate” event in honor of his memory. The event was also a way to fight back against the zeitgeist of hate-spewing groups stumping on the beach at that time.

“We [the roller skaters] in Venice of Beach are the antithesis of hate,” says Pine. “We are an incredibly diverse group, culturally and ethnically.”

During Venice’s ’70s and ’80s roller dancing heyday, personalities like “Mad” James Lightning and Sara Messenger (aka Sally Piano) spent many a sun-soaked weekend livening up the Venice Boardwalk with their respective “liquid poetry” and “Cadillac” moves as described in the 2017 documentary on Venice’s roller skate scene “Roller Dreams.” At that time, skate dancers would boogie down to James Brown and Garrett’s Crew’s “Nasty Rock.”

Saturday night’s roller disco party — the first of its kind on Venice Beach, says Pine — aims to give participants a taste of that era. Expect lots of R&B, plenty of old-school ’80s and ’90s, and even a disco ball.

“There will be a photo booth — the lighting will be outrageous,” says Pine. “We’re going to have a wide screen — 20-feet wide. We’ll be showing our trailer from ‘Roller Dreams,’ and we’ll be showing some videos of some of our skaters that are no longer with us. We’re celebrating them, then our current skaters.”

The new generation of skate dancers benefits from this summer’s repaving of Skate Dance Plaza, for which the Venice Beach Skate Dance Association raised $60,000 and worked with the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks. Pine noticed many new faces at the Skate Dance Plaza’s official ribbon cutting on July 14, although she laughs at herself for forgetting to cut the ribbon.

“I turned on the music and everyone came rushing in and jumping on that area, literally leaping onto the skate area,” recalls Pine.

The refurbished skating area not only boasts slick new pavement, but also a stencil of the Venice Beach Skate Dancer Association’s logo and a red painted line on the ground to discourage skateboarders, scooters and pedestrians from meandering into the area, which will also be open for a “Sunday Funday” skate from 2 p.m. to sundown on Aug. 11. More signage delineating the area is on the way, too.

“We have felt like the step-child [of the Venice Skate Park],” says Pine, “but now we have the recognition.”

Skate Dance Plaza is between Sidewalk Café and the Venice Skate Park. Friday’s skate starts at 9:30 p.m. in front of the café after a 7 p.m. meet-and-greet. Saturday’s skate dance demo is from noon to 5 p.m. at the plaza, followed by the roller disco party from 7 to 10 p.m. Events are free, but try to RSVP at venicebeachsk8dance.org.

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