Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll
Roller skates and the roller rink in American culture.
Web2Carz Staff Writer
Published: August 2nd, 2012
oller rinks are as central to skating culture as nunneries are to Catholic parishes. They’ve been around much longer than most people could imagine, too. In fact, while Union and Confederate soldiers were slaughtering each other south of the Mason-Dixon line, the first American skating club was established another world away in New York City.
By the 1880s, enthusiasm for roller skates had spread in epidemic proportion up and down the east coast of the United States.
Roller skates have a history dating back to the mid-1700s. The first patented roller skate was invented by Joseph Merlin who in 1760 skated clumsily into a London society party, debuting his brainchild by crashing into his host’s mirror.
Over time, various inventors sought to improve Merlin’s prototype with better and more durable skates. Improvements in wheel design enabled skaters to pivot and turn on a dime. Before long, roller skating was the rage among children and adults alike and by the 1880s, enthusiasm for roller skates had spread in epidemic proportion up and down the East Coast of the United States before heading west.
Boys liked to race each other and play hockey, while girls used roller skates to perform dance and perfect their figure skating routines. Indoor venues to host (iceless) hockey games, races, dance recitals, and birthday parties were built and became commonly known as rinks. By the late 1930s, lacing up a pair of skates for a fun afternoon and hitting the hard floor at the neighborhood roller rink was as bona fide a national pastime as baseball, ice skating, and duck hunting.
One thing’s for certain, roller skating is a craze that won’t go away and rinks have hosted one skating generation after another. New trends have continually evolved, just like in popular music.
The disco era of the ‘70s and early ‘80s was a revolution in and of itself and “roller disco” emerged with its own subculture of skaters. It was reflected in mainstream music—Melanie’s “Brand New Key” (the song playing while Heather Graham’s “Rollergirl” seduced Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights) dominated the pop charts in 1972 and movies like Roller Boogie and Xanadu turned the roller rinks of yesteryear into discotheques where flamboyant skaters could show off their moves.
“Roller disco” (not unlike its predecessor, disco) began to fade into memory much to the great delight of Americans. By the late ‘80s rollerblades, or inline skates surfaced to usher in a brand new era of indoor roller hockey.
And if that wasn’t enough, the amateur female roller derby revival—a contact skating sport dating back to the 1930s—brought roller rinks across America back into the public eye. The 2009 motion picture Whip it with Drew Barrymore and Ellen Page gave light to the sport and made it more popular.
You can be certain that right now, in 2012 millions of people are at rink near you, rolling beneath the mirror ball’s flickering lights and having the time of their lives.
If you happen to be late to the party and have never set foot, or skate in any number of rinks throughout the country there’s nothing wrong with you. Just go online and Google roller rinks to find one near you. Websites like United Skates of America or RC Sports’ “rink locator” provide comprehensive lists of operational roller rinks and allow you to purchase skating supplies and accessories.