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Liberty Ross Shares the History and Significance of Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace

By Emmie MurphyApr 12 2023
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Trade your ice skates in for some quads, and get ready to boogie: Beginning April 14, The Rink at Rockefeller Center will once again transform into Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace, an open-air roller rink revival of the former Los Angeles-based institution. Following the success of last year’s season, Flipper’s is back with a line-up of exciting programming, beginning with a collaboration with Brain Dead, a Los Angeles-based collective of creative artists and designers.

The original Flipper’s was first opened by Ian “Flipper” Ross in LA’s West Hollywood neighborhood in 1979. Though the rink was only in business for three years, it left an indelible mark on its city and drew an eclectic crowd, from curious teens to celebrities like Cher and Elton John. In 2022, Ross’ daughter, fashion model Liberty Ross, reintroduced the beloved brand to the world — first in New York and then in London, which opened in November of the same year.

The roller boogie palace is a throwback in many ways. It's not only a revival of a Hollywood institution, but also a nod to an even older era. The April 2022 opening marked the first time The Rink at Rockefeller Center has transitioned to roller skating since the 1940s.

Flipper’s mission to encourage “less scroll, more roll” draws crowds of all ages to its rink with a supersonic lineup of DJs while setting fashion trends in skatewear and streetwear. Since opening their doors in 2022, Flipper’s welcomed over 80,000 skaters in New York City with visits from Diplo, Tyga, Jordin Sparks, Leon Bridges, Swizz Beatz, and more. Through the joy of skating, Flipper’s created an iconic place for free spirits to meet, skate, and bond all set to music that’s endemic to skating culture.

“Roller skating is the ultimate equalizer,” Ross told The Center Magazine. “When you strap on a pair of skates, everything goes out the window. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what background you come from, famous or not, you’re all united in the simple, joyful thing that is roller skating.”

The roller skating rink, designed by Bureau Betak, is over half the size of the ice rink, leaving room for adjacent tables, chairs, and greenery. The design helps draw crowds down to Rink Level and encourages congregating for those passing through. “Part of the success of [the original] Flipper’s was that it was right in the middle of Hollywood and very accessible for every person to get there,” Ross explained.

In terms of accessibility, there are few places in New York City more central than Rockefeller Center. “The fact that we can open in New York at Rock Center is huge,” Ross said. “We always want to be accessible to as many people as we can.”

Accessibility goes hand-in-hand with inclusivity, another hallmark of the Flipper’s ethos. “We’re a safe home for everybody,” said Ross. “We create an environment of shared safety so all the misfits of life can gather. That’s what happened at the original Flipper’s, it was a home for everybody.”

Even for those uneasy on wheels, Flipper’s holds a particular kind of allure. Craig Robinson, executive vice president and chief diversity officer for NBCUniversal, may have lost a tooth while skating for the first time at the original Flipper’s, but even that couldn’t dampen his good time. Robinson isn’t exactly sure how he and his friends ended up at the rink one evening in the early 1980s, but he does still remember the spirit of the place. “For someone who felt a little bit like an outsider, the concept of a place like Flipper’s was just magical,” he told The Center Magazine.

This year, Flipper’s will continue to have weekly and seasonal programming that includes themed skate and dance parties, family and kids events, charity givebacks, and more, jam-packed with legends of the New York music scene alongside the best in emerging talent. Every Thursday, Flipper’s will host ‘NY Skate of Mind’ parties featuring musical tastemakers that paved the way in the hip hop & dance music culture, are heavyweights in the downtown scene, and will play side by side with the next generation of stars. Fridays and Saturdays will be a fun mix of the best local talent with visiting out of town performers who are bound to give you the boogie you need on rollerskates! There will no doubt be dancing and tricks and some folks moving as if more comfortable on wheels than their own two feet. If you’re a hug-the-railing kind of person, though, Flipper’s is still a place for you.

“...the thing about roller skating is it's just so positive,” said Ross. “You have to be connected and present, be in the moment. It really helps your mental health — less scroll, more roll, as we say. We really encourage people to put their phones away for periods of the day and let go and experience the freedom of skating.”

Beyond the office buildings, television studios, famous Art Deco architecture, and world-class public art, Rockefeller Center represents the spirited essence of New York City — something that Flipper’s identifies with as well. “It’s a place where you want to come and have fun,” said Robinson. “Everyone’s welcome and no one will be judged.”

Starting April 14, Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace will be open at The Rink, between 50th and 49th Streets, Sunday through Wednesday from 12pm to 10pm and Thursday through Saturday from 12pm to 12am. Adult-only skating sessions are from 9pm to 12am Thursday through Saturday.

This article was first published in April 2022. It has since been updated.

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