Dancing Around the Rink (aka: Black People Roller Skate)

black people skate In my family, like in many other Black families, at least when I was growing up, there were two things that every child was expected to learn without question: how to dance, and how to roller skate. Yes, roller skate. That’s what came from being born in the 1970s, during the height of disco roller-dancing in rinks across the nation. That’s also what came from having two teenaged big sisters who dragged us younger kids to the rink weekend after weekend. The roller rink, with its shiny, polished floor, flashing colored lights, and giant mural painted on the far wall, was almost like a second home. For years, my siblings, friends and I whizzed around to popular songs (including my all-time favorite skate song, Pour Some Sugar on Me). We watched in awe as the jamskaters danced around the circuit, boogying and bouncing and swaying their hips to the rhythm like the skates were just an extension of their bodies. We did wheelbarrow races and the Hokey Pokey and Shoot the Duck contests. Occasionally, the DJ would turn on a slow jam, which meant hand-in-hand skating for couples, and a Slurpee and popcorn break for us wallflowers.skating was part of my childhood


My own kids, by contrast, have rarely been to the roller rink. So a few days ago, thanks to some coupons and a surge of parental guilt, I decided to correct that mistake.

“But Mo-ooom!” whined my two youngest kids. “I don’t know how to roller skate!”

“Look,” I said, “You are half Black. And Black people skate. So you’re going.” Like my sisters before me, I dragged my kids to the rink and taught them how to lace up their skates. They hobbled after me to the floor, where I pretty much wished them good luck and whizzed off. My two oldest kids quickly remembered their skills and were soon coasting around the floor with me, having fun. My 9yo, however, turned out to be a wall-hugger, barely budging from his spot. He refused to let me guide him around until at last, I transformed into Meanie Mom and threatened to take away his computer game time for the rest of the day if he didn’t spend the next hour trying to skate. I know, I know – probably not a move that would win me Mommy of the Year Award. But hey – it worked. And by the end of our skate session, he was edging forward without clutching the wall. Reluctant Skater

For the most part, though, we all had a terrific time. And I was so surprised by how little the rink has changed over the years, from the flashing lights to the mural to the music. Of course, now they are playing One Direction instead of Def Leppard, but still. My only complaint was that I had to really work to control my speed with so many little kids on the floor. Once, I actually managed to run over a little boy who cut in front of me. Eek! Luckily, he wasn’t injured. Perhaps one day soon, I will venture out to one of the adult-only skate nights, which are filled with other people like me who remember those early days of disco skate and jamskating, and who still dance their way around the circuit, bouncing and swaying to the music. roller disco


9 responses to “Dancing Around the Rink (aka: Black People Roller Skate)

  1. One of the cool things about living in NYC is that people go to Central Park and skate/dance/roller blade, and there are a couple specific areas where they place music and dance, mostly old-timers like us who remeber the vibe from the 70’s and early disco/hip hop break beats.

    I broke my arm when I was in second or third grade at the roller rink … I had forgotten all about that.

    And then when roller blades came out, I got really into it again, and actually skated to work for a while, practiced moves, and, ah yes, how I remember shooting the duck :).

    • There’s a skating place like that in Golden Gate Park, too. My stepmother grew up in the city and used to go skating there a lot.

      Rollerblades, yes, weren’t they great? I owned a pair back in university and used to skate to school and all around town. Every now and then, I consider buying a pair, because it was great exercise, but stop myself. At the rink, though, I definitely prefer 4 wheels.

      I remember this great rink my stepdad used to take us to in Santa Rosa that did Shoot the Duck contests where you had to outlast your opponents and push people over. 😀 Ahh, the 80’s.


  2. I never learned how to ice or roller skate b/c weak ankles. Many stitches from skateboarding though. Roller blades? I’d probably kill myself. But I used to try rollerskating at the rink. There was this girl… we dated for a short time and she decided we should break up. Hmm. wonder if it was because I sucked at roller skates? Lucky for me, though. I think Mrs M’s a keeper. ~DM

    • I never really tried skateboarding (seems hard!) and only went around on inline skates for a year or two. In middle school and high school, everyone went to the rink on weekends; probably because there wasn’t much else for teens to do in our town, other than the movies, parties, or the Cruise. Good exercise, and great memories of fun times with friends. Now I share those fun times with my kids.

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