Coney Island has always been an urban resort for us city folks. It's a place where we can escape the everyday hustle and grind for a day at the shore. Coney Island isn't the Jersey Shore, by any means. For one it's in Brooklyn, not New Jersey. And two, the water and sand are not known to have the highest quality. Back in the day, playing in the sand could produce a treasure trove of garbage and drug paraphernalia---and it still does on a bad day. Still, it has its bright spots. Those bright spots include the Parachute Tower standing tall against the blue sky like a beacon of hope, the Wonder Wheel and amusement rides of Astroland (now Luna Park) that provide amusement, a bonus is that they light up at night and seem to sparkle against the night sky, and playing games and dining out on the boardwalk to Nathan's hot dogs and other summer foods (funnel cakes, ice cream, pizza and burgers etc.). My favorite thing to do on the boardwalk is to people-watch and to watch the tug boats and cruise ships pass by on the ocean and the occasional blimp or old-school airplanes that puff out messages and advertisements across the blue sky.
It isn't the only beach in the city and it isn't perfect, but it serves its purpose and I would venture that it still remains the place most native New Yorkers are fond of and a place that we all seem to share some childhood memory, no matter who we are or where we live in the city. Some would say that Coney Island is our urban version of the Hamptons minus the celebrities and gorgeous beach houses---but of course, that could always change...
Coney Island, which means "Rabbit Island" in Old English used to be a sophisticated resort area of the city in the 1800s. (The word "coney" is similar to the modern word "bunny.") There were several hotels and docks that served as piers for steamboats. It progressed into a place for day-trips in the 1900s with local parks and beaches, amusement rides, concession stands, diners and restaurants, theaters, and bathhouses. Later on there were full-fledged amusement parks, Luna Park and Astroland. The glory days began to disappear after the World War II and much of the old Coney Island was gone by the mid-1960s. Coney Island, then fell into disrepair like much of the city, and since then has been seeking its promises of revitalization. Over the years there was talk of bringing in casinos, hotels, resorts and sophisticated amusement parks. The new Luna Park, has brought about some of the proposed change.
Still, New Yorkers have always known how to have fun and to organize for the community while City Hall and the local city council debates and reforms its resolutions. In the Spring and Summer, the city comes alive with some of the best local events and there are parades, street festivals, sales of every kind and all sorts of events that keep the communities going. In Coney Island, there is no difference.
The boardwalk has remained vibrant and community groups such as the Coney Island Dancers hold free parties on the boardwalk all summer long (from May to September). Their DJs play house, funk, soul, and disco music from a gazebo on the boardwalk and a large crowd of dancers and Congo drummers form around the gazebo. They dance and sing and skate to the music, embracing newcomers and tourists alike. You can find the Coney Island Dancers on the boardwalk most Saturdays and Sundays and even in the midst of the Mermaid Parade or the Coney Island Halloween Parade for kids.
This club of dancers was founded by Rican Vargas, an original member of the legendary underground club, Paradise Garage. Rican, as he is known, is also the Commander-In-Chief and runs the club in the tradition of Paradise Garage. The Coney Island Dancers are a multi-cultural and LGBT friendly group. Membership is a privilege and is taken very seriously by this community of dancers. There are Winter events, but these events are open exclusively to members and their guests in order to promote a "safe and exclusive" environment. In addition to their parties and special events, the Coney Island Dancers are committed to helping special needs children, especially autistic children, and show their commitment by holding charity events for them.
While I am not a member of the Coney Island Dancers, I enjoy going to their boardwalk parties during the summer. I usually ride out to Coney Island with my father for a day of fun on the boardwalk. I have made life-long friends with its members and appreciate their camaraderie and friendship. There is a true family vibe in this small community and the boardwalk parties are family-friendly, members often bring their children to join in on the fun.
I try to come out to Coney Island at least a few times each summer. It's become a part of my summer fun in the city and I have so many good memories there. While, the boardwalk is changing and Coney Island begins its revitalization programs, I have faith that the Coney Island Dancers and other groups like them will always be around. And New Yorkers, such as myself, will continue to support them whenever we visit our beloved Coney Island.
See you on the boardwalk!
P.S. For more pictures of my days on Coney Island, visit my gallery on Flickr.