Urban roller skating fights for survival as U.S. rinks close
By Fiona Ortiz
CHICAGO (Reuters) - On a frigid winter night, snow blankets hundreds of cars in the dark parking lot outside the Rink on Chicago's south side.
But things are cooking inside the aging roller rink. Under colored lights, a huge crowd of skaters wearing black leather and four-wheel skates shoots around the wooden floor doing dance routines in groups, or solo twirls, Axels and acrobatics to R&B remixes.
The Rink and a handful of other decades-old skating venues put Chicago at the center 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 including 28-year-old Josh Smith – whose skating handle is "Batman" – travel a circuit of rinks around the country to compete and show off their moves.
"Skating is on my mind 24/7, in my dreams. I always try to raise the bar," says the goateed Smith, who has competed all over the United States and as far away as England and draws influences from arts such as ballroom dancing and the Brazilian martial art capoeira.
Out on the floor Smith spins, jumps, break dances and does splits. Purple lights glow under his skates. At the end of a long night of skating in Chicago, at 1 a.m. he jumps in a car with skating buddies and heads to Alabama to compete at a national gathering known as a skate jam.
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 recognize JB skaters for their old-fashioned, loosely tied black boots and specific moves such as big wheel and crazy legs.