Dancing on skates

Dancing on skates


A handful of decades-old skating venues puts Chicago at the centre of a vibrant African-American subculture of urban roller skate dancing that stretches from Atlanta to Detroit and from Los Angeles to New York.

While mainstream roller skating has been on a long decline, a new generation of skaters travel a circuit of rinks around the country to compete and show off their moves.

. CHICAGO, United States. REUTERS/Jim Young

A woman dances on roller skates at "The Rink" during an evening session in Chicago.

The evolving skate dance form does not even have a name, and each city has its particular style. Veteran Chicago skaters call themselves JB skaters - after remixed James Brown songs that are a local staple. Other skaters in the United States will recognise JB skaters for their old-fashioned, loosely tied black boots and specific moves such as big wheel and crazy legs.

. RICHTON PARK, United States. REUTERS/Jim Young

The scene is intense and vibrant, but it is also threatened as roller skating rinks close down in many big cities. And those that survive are financially strapped.

"We're defending a dying sport," said Buddy Alexander, 36, one of the owners of Rich City Skate in a Chicago suburb. He and his brother Mark, 31, bought the rink in 2006 and have worked hard to keep it alive.

"There are a lot of rinks closing around the country because they aren't open to this community. In many big cities, there's no rinks left," says Dyana Winkler, who is working on a documentary about the skating culture called "United Skates."

. RICHTON PARK, United States. REUTERS/Jim Young

A man adjusts the wheels on his roller skates at "Rich City Skate”.

The roller skating tradition is four generations deep in cities like Chicago. Despite rink closures, the culture is getting stronger as styles evolve, said Winkler's co-director, Tina Brown.

Case in point: 46-year-old Chicago educator Lavonne Jones, who has skated most of her life. Her parents, her children and her grandchildren all skate. "We're keeping the tradition alive."

. RICHTON PARK, United States. REUTERS/Jim Young