Patrick D Pagnano captures 80s roller disco culture at its peak

Empire Roller Disco, a new book from the street photographer, is dedicated to a series of images shot in a single night at an iconic Brooklyn skating rink

Pagnano visited the Empire Roller Disco venue in Brooklyn in the 80s, and sought to capture the energy and spirit of the pastime at its absolute peak. Founded in 1941, at which time it was called Empire Rollerdrome, the rink eventually grew to legendary status after it became known for its disco-focused skating.

By 1980, when the photos were taken, Empire Roller Disco had established itself as a home away from home for a diverse community of partygoers. Boasting a live DJ and a cutting edge sound and light system, it facilitated a new style of skating that revolved around great music and great moves.

All images © Patrick D Pagnano

In the introduction to the monograph – which is published by the New York-based Anthology Editions – journalist Miss Rosen says: “Empire Roller Disco, with its mélange of communities partying side by side, was the ultimate expression of this energy — a place where rich and poor, Black and white, straight and gay found communion in the shared bliss of turns, spins, and dips.”

In Pagnano’s dynamic black and white photographs, this stylish form of skating can be witnessed in all its glory. The figures, captured both candidly and in striking poses, glide across the waxed floor bearing ecstatic expressions.

While some appear to be concentrating on their technique, many simply smile and laugh as they move to the music. There is a sense of collective joy as they weave in and out, dancing with each other and letting loose under the glare of a disco ball.

However, the book offers more than a mere glimpse at a popular pastime — it also hones in on the fashion and styles of this era, revealing the unique mix of fast-paced fun and well-put-together outfits that became an important part of roller disco culture.

Writing in his notebooks, Pagnano commented: “In retrospect, the assignment turned out to be very special — it became an essay that represented an era that cannot be recreated.”

Empire Roller Disco is published by Anthology Editions;