Stunning photos show the sultry days at Brooklyn’s Empire Rollerdrome in 1980 as young New Yorkers twirled across maple floorboards to the beat of disco music
- Empire Rollerdrome has been located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, for 66 years. In the 1970s it spawned the disco rollercoaster movement that spread across the United States
- Photographer Patrick DiBannano captured a night at the Rollerdrome in 1980
In 1980, a photographer was sent into the depths of Brooklyn to document the cultural phenomenon that takes place at night in the 36,000-square-foot warehouse of a building.
Patrick DiBannano, who worked for Forbes, drove his cameras to the Crown Heights neighborhood, just around the corner from where Dodgers Ebbets Field once stood, slipped into the crowd at the Empire Rollerdrome and began filming.
There he captured the latest sensation to take the city by storm: New Yorkers young and old twirling across maple floorboards, dancing on roller skates to the beats of disco under a marquee announcing that they were in the “birthplace of roller disco.”
Founded in 1941, Empire Rollerdrome has spent 40 years at the cutting edge of music and dance. The rink’s first sound system was purchased and reused from the 1939 World’s Fair, and by the late 1950s the owners had started state figure skating, bringing widespread attention to the art of skate dancing, according to Another magazine.
By the 1960s, DJs at Rollerdrome were spinning the latest jazz, blues, R&B, and soul tracks while skaters danced and invented signature dances, then 70s disco exploded on the scene at the rink and before long disco watch. all over the country.
But Empire Rollerdrome has always been the home of the action. The designer behind the music at Studio 54 overhauled the Rollerdrome’s sound system, Cher hosted her 1979 disco album release party there, and some Rollerdrome skaters were hired to consult on movie choreography.
“It was my first time in Crown Heights,” Bagnano said of that night in 1980, according to Huck magazine. “As soon as I entered the rink, I was transported to another world and in my element.”
Forbes didn’t end up publishing the story on Rollerdrome, and Pagnano’s photos ended up being forgotten in his files while the arena finally closed its doors in 2007. Now, Rollerdrome memories and Pagnano’s photos have seen the light of day again with the release of the Empire Roller Disco book, a 132-plus-page book featuring the photographer’s footage for an American moment.
A man dressed as a cowboy dances across the boards at Empire Rollerdrome
Released in April, Empire Roller Disco returned to highlight the lost work of Patrick Pagnano
Two men dance on their roller skates in the crowd at the Empire Rollerdrome in 1980
Rollerdrome became the skateboarding and dance capital of disco music in the 1970s and 1980s
A woman slides on her skates at the Empire Rollerdrome in the 1980’s while disco music is playing
A crowd of dancers skate to disco music at the Empire Rollerdrome one night in the 1980’s
A skater takes center stage while dancing at the Empire Rollerdrome in 1980
Two women skate at the Empire Rollerdrome in the 1980’s while disco music is playing
Pagnano was sent to the Rollerdrome by Forbes magazine to document the dance sensation
A woman winds her way across the grounds at the Empire Rollerdrome one night in 1980
The Empire Rollerdrome finally closed its doors in 2007 after opening in 1941