Roller disco boogies
Updated: 2006-08-29 09:27

Roller disco is alive! While even the mention of the word may bring up images of hot pants, bell bottoms, huge afros and feathered hair, some die-hard aficionados have kept this free-spirited dance form going over the years.

Roller disco, the 21st century variety, has been influenced by hip-hop and breakdancing but still retains its good-time nature. Peter Weng is one person intent on spreading the joy to Shanghai.

The Jazz du Funk roller disco workshop Weng is leading teaches standard roller disco steps as well as some basic routines and choreography. Each workshop features 30 minutes of open dance time to learn freestyle moves and an introduction to intermediate steps if there is a demand.

The classes are designed to allow students to have more fun on skates and to dance in outdoor events such as those arranged by Weng, as well as at roller rink events.

Roller disco is a mixture of standard moves, dance routines and freestyle. It is very accessible to anyone competent on skates. The only things needed are some rhythm and skates - old-school roller skates and in-line rollerblades are both perfectly suitable.

For the past seven years, Boston-native Weng has been dancing and performing roller disco at street performances and festivals in the United States, Europe and Asia. He has performed with Art-O-Matic's "River of Stars" and "Invaders of the Dark" processions in The Mayor's Thames Festival in London.

In Texas, he founded the Austin Dance Skate Association which was the subject of the 2002 documentary "Austin Rollerdisco." He has two Master's degrees, but his roller disco education has been acquired from the streets, clubs and rinks in various parts of the world.

"I lived on the beach in California. I am a surfer. When there were no waves I was looking for some other activities to do," Weng said. "I love dancing and being outdoors. When I saw the roller dancing at Venice Beach I was hooked."

He said he wanted to spread roller disco to others in Shanghai to let them enjoy this form of dance as much as he does.

"It's a great exercise and a nice outdoor activity that does not require large amounts of space. It's hard to roller disco and stay in a bad mood," he said. "Personally, I enjoy it when there are more people who roller disco as it builds a fun vibe when there's a core group of dancers."

Roller disco dates back to the 1970s when people began to dance to disco music on roller skates. It became a hugely popular activity in the United States both in roller rinks and outdoors and was part of the overall disco culture. It then spread across Europe where huge roller disco parties were held in large rinks and clubs.

Roller disco's popularity then began to wane, but it continued to exist primarily in the inner cities. The music then changed to hip-hop and attracted a smaller but loyal group of dancers who enjoyed the fluid motions and self-expression that is possible on roller skates.

Currently, there is a circuit of inner city skate groups and regional contests and dances held around various parts of the United States. Additionally, some well-established dance circles hold outdoor events at New York's Central Park, Los Angele's Venice Beach, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and at Hyde Park in London.

Such events epitomize roller disco - an urban environment with pumping music (funk, R&B, hip-hop and house are most common) and a varied group of people who enjoy dancing.

"For most people, it has a strong mental connection with the 1970s. It tends to remind them of the fun times and crazy clothing of that period," Weng said.

He added that it also has a great "club" feel due to the hip-hop and R&B music that is the normal soundtrack at roller rinks. It is also having a bit of a resurgence as young people have contests doing breakdance maneuvers on roller skates.

This is why the roller disco movement is very related to hip-hop dancing and incorporates many moves from breakdancing in its current form.

Date: September 2, 9, 16 and 23
Time: 2pm-3:30pm
Price: 600 yuan (US$75) for the course

Students must have their own skates (roller or inline skates) and be able to start and stop. Minimum class size is six skaters and the maximum 10.

Jazz du Funk is also launching additional workshops in tap for boys, Irish dance and cabaret/musical dance in September.