Ga-Ga For Gaga

In the invitation (via Evite) to our son Adam’s 8th birthday party
in March, my wife and I thought it best to give parents a sense of
what was to come in case their children had never experienced the game of gaga before
and decided to show up in crazy wigs and Born This Way buttons.   

“No, this is not a Lady Gaga party,” we
clarified. “Gaga is a fun and fast indoor ball game, only
recently available in Manhattan.”

I had only experienced gaga once before, when my 11-year-old
daughter’s sleepaway camp hosted a mid-winter reunion for kids from the NYC
area at a gaga facility on Long Island. Like
me, Alissa Schmelkin and Marcy Singer first heard about the game from
their kids, who also played it at camp. Their children were so passionate
about it, in fact, that the two Manhattan moms
sensed an opportunity. And, after two years of dreaming, planning, searching
and executing, the friends opened up The Gaga Center in late February
on the Upper East Side in the 90s. 

With its burst of rainbow colors and spacious
setting offering three gaga pits, The Gaga Center is an immediate
enticement to kids. On the day of my son’s party, we got there a
little early to help set up the food and all,  but of course there
was no stopping Adam and his buddy, and his sister Elena and her
buddy, from heading right into one of the gaga pits to start
playing. And that was spirit of the day: kids showed up—and even
if they had never played before—they were eager to jump right in.

You can think of gaga as a first cousin to dodgeball but not as
threatening. Within its padded octagonal ring, kids take aim at each other by
slapping at the ball underhand (as opposed to throwing it overhand), and you’re
only “out” if the ball (which is softer than a dodgeball) hits you below the
knees. The net effect is that kids spend a lot of time dodging, weaving,
jumping, swatting—and having a great time.

So let me not mince words: Schmelkin and Singer have done a great
job, and if the experience with my son’s birthday party is any indication,
I think The Gaga Center is likely to benefit from being a fresh and
novel experience, and will become a popular fixture on the grand
menu of kids classes and birthday parties that city families have
available to them (just like it’s become a big part of the summer
camp experience).  

IMG_3813_JPGadam11.jpgIn addition to birthday parties, The Gaga Center offers semester
classes as well as 50-minute drop-in sessions on Tuesdays and Saturdays. At
most birthday parties I’ve been to in recent years, kids enjoy the activities
but by the time the pizza and cake are served, they’re ready for it. At
Adam’s gaga party, many of the boys and girls were rushing through the
meal in order to play another round. I started worrying that we weren’t
going to have a quorum of friends to sing Happy Birthday! So I persuasively
stood in front of the doorway leading back to the gaga floor until the sacred
trinity of pizza, song and cake were complete. Despite by best efforts, a few
of them slipped through.

At pick-up, a number of parents noted how sweaty, tired and content
their kids seemed. But the biggest compliment came from the kids themselves a
few days later. Like sports fans, a number of Adam’s school friends who were at
the party conspired to wear their Gaga tees on the same day—an 8-year-old’s
statement of acceptance and cool if there ever was one.

Eric Messinger is the Editor of New
York Family
. The Gaga Center is located at 230 East 93rd Street. For more info, call 212-920-7884 or visit