In the late ’70s, everybody went to the roller rink. It was, especially for prepubescent girls like me, unimaginably crazysexycool: the music, the mirror balls, the satin shorts, the frozen pizza, the boys. The roller rink was a world of fantasy, and nothing captured the magic, if you will, more perfectly than the 1980 film Xanadu,starring Olivia Newton-John as a muse on wheels. Unfortunately, roller skating went the way of Newton-John’s career. Within the last couple of years, though, the art of quad skating (not to be confused with rollerblading) has received an infusion of fresh blood with last summer’s disco skate-off flick Roll Bounce, and you’ve surely seen the Rollergirls sneering at you from buses and billboards in ads for the new roller-derby reality show on A&E.
Our hometown girls the L.A. Derby Dolls have seen their share of the limelight as well: They’ve been featured in magazines, rock videos, radio shows, and on MTV and ESPN. They also starred in an episode of CSI:NY that had a roller-derby theme. However, the Dolls suffered a frustrating bout of rollus interruptus last year: In May, they lost their Chinatown warehouse space — dubbed The Dollhouse — and since then these badass babes have been trying, literally, to get back on the track. Plans are under way for a spring event where they can set up their “Cadillac of tracks,” but regardless, you can’t keep a derby girl off her skates. These days the Dolls skate wherever and whenever they can, and together we traversed the city to bring you the skinny on the skate scene; the rest is up to you.
Located in the heart of the Valley and featured in Roll Bounce, this family center takes the skating lifestyle seriously. A weekly Teen Night is known to draw crowds topping 500, and a recent remodel caters to the kids, with illuminated walls around the skate floor and seven video screens. Skateland also hosts a Christian Night (Wednesday), but the derby girls are partial to Tuesday’s 18+ Adult Night, which is where they found their coach, Brian “Blade” Gallagher. Blade shows up and heads straight to the middle of the plastic-floored rink (easier on the falls, say the Dolls), where he practices “jam skate” moves. “He’s in his element,” says Markie D. Sod. “It’s his world.” The music is rock, funk and ’80s, and the crowd is a mixture of 20-something guys and girls who seem to want to hook up, a smattering of older rink rats, and a couple of skaters who give “Adult Night” new meaning, like 86-year-old Peggy Feelin. “Nobody my age skates,” she says. “They all think I’m nuts.”
“It’s kind of like a school dance,” notes Markie. She and Apocalyptica whip around in tandem, cutting a dark swath through the crowd. Midway through the session, it’s announced that only backward skaters will be allowed on the rink. “I don’t know why they’re playing all the good music now,” complains Apocalyptica, standing off to the side as AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” cranks through the speakers. “This is showoff time,” she says. “Everybody’s Xanadu-ing.” Markie raises an eyebrow and adds, “Or Xanadon’t-ing.” Skateland, 18140 Parthenia St., Northridge; (818) 885-7655, www.skateland.net.
If your moves are as dusty as your skate pompoms, you might want to show up for a couple of artistic lessons from Bob Jones at Moonlight Rollerway. A soft-spoken, white-haired gent who’s been a roller-skating instructor since 1953, Bob teaches Tuesday evenings from 7 to 8 p.m. at this historic, onetime open-air rink that was actually lit by moonlight when it first opened. Slammity Jane and Evil E have been coming to the class for a couple of months, and Bob greets Evil warmly. “You’ve been here before,” he says. With the other students, including Karen, whose 10-year-old daughter is a competitive roller skater, we learn moves like backward scissors and Mohawk turns. Slammity is especially agile at shooting the duck across the shiny, newly varnished wooden floors. Evil points to Slammity. “We always say Slammity missed her calling in the Ice Capades.”
The class is followed by a session of live organ music by the rink’s owner, Dominic Cangelosi, who plays at all the national championships. The slow, old-timey sound, which renders even “Bennie and the Jets” virtually unrecognizable, does have its charm, but it’s just not a great fit for women whose talent is speed, agility and force. “Let’s skate a little longer,” says Evil, “but in about 20 minutes I’m gonna go on a killing spree.” 5110 San Fernando Road, Glendale; (818) 241-3630, www.moonlightrollerway.com.
World on Wheels
“Even goths need to smile sometimes,” jokes Kasey Bomber as we enter World on Wheels, where “Wumpskate” has been held the second Monday of every month for over three years. The party’s name is a pun on Wumpscut, a German industrial band that is well known to the skaters who are circling the rink in PVC, bondage gear and numerous interpretations of doctor and nurse uniforms — in keeping with the evening’s SARS theme. It’s hard to tell if the patrons are smiling behind their surgical masks, but the night’s promoters and DJs, Xian and Wednesday, hope that they are. RedJenn bartends at Malediction, another of Xian’s events, so she’s a familiar face on the scene, and she is greeted and hugged by people in white protective suits as Depeche Mode and Peter Murphy throb through the sound system. “It’s kind of weird how easy goth and industrial music is to skate to,” observes Kasey. “It seems so wrong, but it’s actually really good.” The two agree that WOW’s new wooden floor (which was formerly concrete) is the best skating surface in town, with a perfect balance of grip and slide. They also reveal that it’s the only rink that consistently has “disco lighting.”
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
As we walk out, we overhear someone telling Xian that it was a “bad idea” for him to come. “I haven’t been on skates since 1980,” he groans. She smiles. “That’s the point!” The next Wumpskate is a Valentine’s Massacre on February 13. World on Wheels, 4645½ Venice Blvd., L.A.; (323) 933-5170, www.wowsk8.com?.
“Are you really Derby Dolls?” Tyrone, an 11-year-old hip-hop skater at the city-built Skate Dance Plaza in Venice, gazes at the six pink-and-black-clad Dolls who have come out for a Sunday “beach skate.” The fancy footwork on display in the plaza is in stark contrast to the skateboarders practicing at the adjacent mini–skate park. It’s not really their scene, but the girls are open to anything — even an impromptu lesson in dance skating from Jimmy, who gets them stepping and turning in no time to rap hits pumped out by DJ Pamela. “Why do that when we have all these people to dodge?” says Emma Geddon, looking at the crowded boardwalk. The next move is unanimous. “Let’s go dodge some tourists!” says Kaboom, and off we go. Usually they head straight for the commercial boardwalk (which they prefer to the sandy stretch near the beach), where dodging the crowds makes good practice for roller derby. In a groovy local moment, we pass Lords of Dogtown director Catherine Hardwicke on her bike. “She’s like the grand Betty of the scene!” says Hettie Banger. And the Dolls are well on their way to legendary status themselves; they attract attention everywhere they go, from a geeky older man with a backpack who calls out “Jam it! Jam it!” as they whiz by to a teenager who whines to his friend, “Why are they skating in a liiine?” Bobbo, an employee of Boardwalk Skates, has an answer: “Because that is the L.A. women’s roller-derby league, you dumbass!”
Skate Dance Plaza, Market St. & Ocean Front Walk, Venice; weekends, 10 a.m. until sunset.?