The bike racks at Irvington Elementary School overflowed last Thursday night while music from DJs soothed souls and a wonderful collection of human beings came together to dance in colorful outfits while enjoying a perfect summer evening.
And no, I’m not describing a Pedalpalooza ride. I’m describing Secret Roller Disco. Now in its second year, this weekly, free-fun phenomenon has boomed in popularity alongside a national surge in roller skating.
Started on a whim at the outset of the pandemic in spring 2020, Secret Roller Disco now has a large and loyal following that is ready to lace up skates and roll wherever organizers plant a pin on social media. After months of seeing Pedalpalooza and bike activism mainstay Ryan Hashagen (aka “Saul T. Scrapper“) roller skate on rides (he’s an amazing skater who can more than keep up with bike riders all types of terrain) I finally decided to take him up on the offer to see what was going on with this event.
It was so fun!
Just like many of the rides I’ve been on lately, Secret Roller Disco was able to breathe life into an otherwise underused public space (in this case, a school playground) by introducing tons of people moving together to music. Thursday’s event was their biggest turnout ever.
There were free skate rentals thanks to the Rose City Skatemobile and vendors selling treats and crafts. There was a photographer doing tintype portraits, a disco ball, absolutely slamming DJs, and even a porta-potty! People set up picnics and lawn-chairs to rest and watch kinetic visual feast. It was a very impressive spread for something that grew out of a text message between two friends two years ago.
“Accidental” co-founder of the event Francesca Berrini and her friend April Hasson are both well-known in the local roller derby scene. They’ve watched in awe as their desire to skate together for some healthy, socially distanced fun went from a “We should do this every week!” text, to an email list, and now to an Instagram account with almost 9,000 followers.
Lest you get the wrong idea, they didn’t want to keep it “secret” to exclude anyone, they were just being cautious due Covid concerns. But once vaccines came, concerns eased, and the secret trickled out.
Once that happened, “We were like, ‘OK everybody, come hang out with us!’ and it kept growing from there,” Berrini shared Thursday. “It’s been so joyful!”
Are you trying to make a statement? Is there any activism or larger message behind what you’re doing? I asked her. “No. This is just 100% a joyful, Portland thing. I wanted it to be a happy void, something good we could all experience.”
By that metric, they’ve definitely succeeded.
If you want to check out the next one, follow @secretrollerdisco on Instagram.