November 29, 2022
  • November 29, 2022

‘Skating is a way of life’: Roller skating culture thrives in Cincinnati

By on November 3, 2022 0

CINCINNATI — Beneath a cluster of silver disco balls, Ja’kin Boggs dances while skating. He dodges a friend to an empty part of the rink and launches into a 540 degree spin. When it hits the ground, the sound of wheels on polished wood resonates with a pop.

“That’s how I get into a groove,” Boggs, 24, said. “I listen to the music, the beat. Maybe I’ll close my eyes. Then I’ll fall into what feels right to express myself.

Here at The Place Cincy, Wednesday nights are over 21 and reserved for the likes of Boggs – many of whom are avid roller skaters, who use it as a pressure relief valve to relieve the stresses of life. You come to “bring out your aggression,” said Dayton’s Mario Allen. “Practice. Set your mood. Have fun.”

Some skaters performed choreographed moves along the wall during a 21+ Skating Party at The Place Cincy.

(Staff of Pat Greenhouse/Globe)

As Allen speaks, skaters pass each other in chaotic harmony or park in the quiet center to ride back and forth. Couples huddle together; friends form moving conga lines, hands on hips. They learned from their mothers or grandfathers, some would say, and maintain it in hopes of preserving an element of black American culture passed down from generation to generation.

Some skaters taught themselves an exercise in imitation and bravery. “You see someone doing something. You try it,” said KaeKae McBride, co-founder of Cincinnati skate team Reckless Sk8rs. “You fall, and try again.”

During the day, The Place becomes a family destination again with a rock climbing wall, claw machine and checkered tablecloths for kids’ pizza and birthday cake. But on the night, assistant manager Eric Black said the regulars – many of whom were black – were breathing new life into the rink.

They shake and shake an organized set list that blares until midnight, when employees move the last of the stragglers off the floor. Some come together to perform the “downtown,” a vine move where skaters go over and behind in near-perfect unison. The most flexible of the peloton end the evening by running towards the wall, to throw themselves into a split at the last moment.

To end the night, several skaters slipped on the floor, crashed into the wall and finished with a split.
(Staff of Pat Greenhouse/Globe)

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Eric Black’s family bought the rink in 1983, and he said interest in roller skating had “rise and fall over time”. It surged again during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to a surge of viral TikToks and savvy influencers. But many skaters have been dedicated to the rink since childhood.

Britiney English, a 28-year-old nursing student, said she and her friends have left Ohio several times a year for as long as she can remember, to attend skating events in faraway places: Atlanta , Chicago or Tallahassee. She said: “Here’s a cliché and a truth: skating is a way of life.

As much as the sport serves as a common thread for the community, a rivalry between skating styles also flourishes. The artistic undertones of the Jersey style clash with the lifts and flash of Cleveland freestylers. Ted Maxberry, 56, argues that the Detroit variety is superior. It’s more fluid, he said, with complex moves like the Pontiac and the Open House.

Detroit skaters always keep their feet close to the ground and attach long toes to their boots. “In Detroit, you probably smell the wheels burning,” said Maxberry, a Cincinnati native who traveled to Michigan every week for a year two decades ago to perfect the style. “If they ever put skating in the Olympics, it would be Detroit.”

A couple skated backwards during a slow song. (Staff of Pat Greenhouse/Globe)

More than the style, what really matters are the tracks – at least according to DJ Sneaks, known as Malcolm Wilford when he’s not doing R&B. It follows the movement of the skaters, as much as they follow the tempo of the music. All five upbeat songs should be accompanied by a slower pick, he said. Hearing requests should be woven together rather than piled up.

The rules are strict because when it comes to a generations-old tradition, the stakes for failure couldn’t be higher.

“The only thing that can kill skating night,” Wilford believes, “is bad music.”

Some skaters had wheels that lit up the ground. (Staff of Pat Greenhouse/Globe)

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Credits
  • reporters: Julian Benbow, Diti Kohli, Hanna Krueger, Emma Platoff, Annalisa Quinn, Jenna Russell, Mark Shanahan, Lissandra Villa Huerta
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