NEW YORK CITY -- October is National Roller Skating Month, but one group of New Yorkers celebrates this throwback tradition for more than just 31 days a year. The Central Park Dance Skaters Association has been busting moves on eight wheels for more than 31 years!
"We started in the mid-80s with boom boxes and people just freestyling and having themselves a ball," said Lynna "Moving Star" Davis, Vice President of the CPDSA and an avid skater.
Davis and her spinning sidekicks began with unofficial get-togethers in Central Park, just east of Sheep Meadow until things became more official.
"We started to get permits and organize a non-profit organization for the best free skating party in the world," Davis said.
If you visit "Skaters Row" any Saturday or Sunday afternoon when the weather is nice, you'll see what Davis is talking about: scores of skaters, dancers, and spectators enjoying bumping beats and graceful twirls for hours on end.
Lionel "Maffy" Laurent, who spins like an Olympic figure skater on his retro roller skates, has been coming religiously for the past five years.
"It brought me back to my childhood. It was like a disco," he said. "This is a community. They welcome everybody."
The boomboxes have been exchanged for DJs "spinning" digital tracks, and some of the skates have been traded in for roller blades, but the spirit of the skate circle is remarkably unchanged since the 80s.
"Everyone has their own special thing that they do," Davis said. "The twirls, the splits, the crazy legs, the toe dancers; the sky's the limit when it comes to roller skating."
Coronavirus has impacted these dance skaters, like all New Yorkers. Jamie "J-Love" Rivera recently laced up her skates for the first time since losing her father, a beloved pediatrician, to COVID-19.
"It feels really nice to be back on skates," Rivera said. "It feels like I'm coming to therapy when I come to the circle. It just felt like I was free again."
Davis encourages all skaters to wear masks and keep six feet from others. The CPDSA has even designed its own line of roller skate-themed masks.
"But we know that we have to be out," Davis added. "To give it up or just all of a sudden, it's cut out of your life, it's almost like your breath being taken away."
Skaters Ishmael "Foot Loose" Aliel and "Rolling" Ryan Eckman agree that skating can have a therapeutic effect, especially during these fraught times.
"It relieves a lot of stress, and it brings a lot of joy into your life," Aliel said.
"It just kind of instantly cheers me up," Eckman added. "It doesn't matter what kind of day you had, what kind of week you had. It's a nice way to unwind after whatever it is that you're going through."
For Davis, the power of skating is crystallized in one word.
"Freedom," Davis said. "You come walking down that hill, it's like, 'I'm in Central Park, I get a chance to let it go, heal from the inside out, and hone my craft. It's just amazing art.