Anyone born in the late '70s could probably roller-skate before they could walk, and hum the Village People’s "YMCA" before they could spell the alphabet. So obsessed was America with roller skating and disco that when the two combined, the pop-culture phenomenon of roller disco exploded like Aquanet in the '80s.
On April 1, Playboy will come to town to resurrect the roller-disco scene, giving Miami hipsters and maybe even their parents a chance to boogie down old-school at Super Wheels in Kendall.
The great era of roller disco — which peaked in the '80s — ushered in cult classics like Xanadu, a cinematic flop that generated a Billboard hit in Olivia Newton-John’s "Magic." Celebrities and supermodels appeared on the cover of a new crop of magazines dedicated to the social sport that even took the disco-girl look outdoors. Venice Beach’s famous boardwalk became the rolling-skating capital of the world in 1979 after a mayoral decree.
That same year, Hugh Hefner, who’d been publishing Playboy magazine since 1953 and knew a good craze when he saw one, tapped into roller-disco fever by throwing the decade’s ultimate summer theme party at his California mansion. America got a peek at some skin and all the fun on primetime TV when Playboy’s Roller Disco and Pajama Party aired on ABC. The party’s soundtrack featured 1979 hits by disco divas. Donna Summer’s "Bad Girls," Anita Ward’s "Ring My Bell," and France Joli’s "Come to Me," along with live performances by the Village People and the Chuck Mangione Quartet, set the tone for the scene where Hefner famously converted his tennis courts into an outdoor roller-skating arena.
"Video Killed the Radio Star" would hit the airwaves that summer, and MTV was just three years shy of its first broadcast. In a world without iPods and internet porn, Hefner’s bash was a big deal. It also looked tame by today’s standards.
Although roller disco’s popularity would gradually fizzle over the decade, its iconic big hair, leotards, rainbow socks, satin shorts, and glittery headbands would stick to America’s retro consciousness like so much strawberry-flavored lip gloss.
So why, decades later, is Playboy interested in reviving the roller-disco party in Miami? It might have to do with what Grandpa kept hush-hush in the swinging '60s. Miami’s members-only Playboy Club franchise opened in 1961, second only to the original venue in Chicago that debuted in 1960. Members needed a key to get into the landmark social club.
When the Playboy DC-9 Bunny Jet flew into Miami that year, it heralded a new era of gentleman's swank at NE 77th Street and Biscayne Boulevard, with signature bachelor-pad decor and well-paid, well-behaved Playboy bunnies. In 1961, they could make up to $12,000 a year if they were attractive, intelligent, and of “the highest moral character,” according to a job ad placed in the Miami News. The club closed in 1985, and by then, the iconic bushy-tailed sex symbol had become as cheesecake as her pinup predecessors.
Whatever the reason, Playboy's throwback boogie night promises to bring back all the glory and the colorful kitsch of the late '70s. The Midnight Roller Disco will offer disco tunes, roller bunnies, and, perhaps most important, an open bar.
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