January 25, 2010 / 5:44 AM / 9 years ago

Going retro: roller disco enjoys revival in Shanghai

SHANGHAI (Reuters Life!) - The world has moved on from rollerskating disco, that oh so 1980s fad immortalized in the film “Xanadu,” but in China, dancing on wheels is gaining speed thanks to the nation’s masses of migrant workers.

A general view shows the rink as visitors skate during a night out at the Xinxiang roller skating rink in Shanghai January 19, 2010. REUTERS/Nir Elias

While wealthy executives in trend-setting Shanghai would never be seen indulging in something so passé, roller disco is the entertainment of choice for the tens of thousands of migrants working in low-paying jobs in China’s most expensive city.

Most of these modern fans are in their twenties, too young to remember the craze that swept the United States some 30 years ago, and their ardor proves that disco is not dead.

At Xinxiang roller skating rink, the city’s first and biggest roller disco, hundreds of workers turn up every night to meet friends, listen to music and skate in a rink slightly bigger than a basketball court.

“When we first started 15 years ago, the people who came here to skate were local youngsters,” said Yang Yong, one of the floor managers of the rink.

“As the country started its economic reform, a lot of workers from other provinces came to this city, and now some of these migrants are also coming here for recreation and exercise.”

Roller disco started out as a dance craze in the United States in the 1970s and reached the height of popularity in the 1980s in many Western countries.

Back then, the routine — which involves dancers rolling along on traditional four-wheeled skates while bopping to music — was featured in Hollywood movies such as 1979’s “Roller Boogie” with Linda Blair and Olivia Newton-John’s “Xanadu.”

Roller disco started to become popular in China in the 1990s, but largely lost its appeal at the turn of the century, forcing several rinks across the country to close down.

But in Shanghai, the migrant workers have helped keep the Xinxiang rink, and dozens of others, in business.

“I come here often because I work near this place. My friends kept asking me to come, and there is a good crowd here, and prices here are relatively cheap for a city like Shanghai,” said 22-year-old Tang Jianhui from central Chongqing city, who works as a car accessories salesman.

One of roller disco’s main attractions is its affordability: with most workers earning between 1,000 and 2,000 yuan a month, having fun isn’t easy in Shanghai. But entrance to the skating rinks costs a maximum of 20 yuan ($3) and renting four-wheeled skates costs 5 yuan (80 cents).

Stress-relief is another draw factor.

“It is fun to play here. After a day of hard work and tiredness, it’s good to come here just to relax,” said Mao Huixia from the northwestern Gansu province, who works in a restaurant.

Yang said Xinxiang would preserve the original format of the roller disco while adding other activities such as games and competitions to keep the rollerskaters coming.

“We don’t plan to change the original format of this skating rink. With the objective of bettering the recreation and exercise experience here, we need to constantly improve on our service and look to better the fitness aspect of the business,” he said.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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