At the roller rink birthday parties of my youth there were always the people I like to call “the show-offs.” They would skate laps around everyone, do tricks and put the rest of us, clinging onto the railing, trying to stay upright, to shame.
I was prepared to meet some of these people when I headed out to the High Line’s new roller rink for their first Saturday night 21+ skate.
Instead, I met Dr. Dan (sometimes called “Dangerous Dan”).
I spotted Dan Gareau, bandaging his feet on a bench just outside the rink. The first thing the fedora clad 34-year-old clinical researcher told me was that his skates cost $968 — they were SP-Teris, the same brand that makes “gold medal champion ice skater boots.”
“You’ve got to have the right tools to groove,” he said.
The High Line’s newest feature, a roller rink sponsored by UNIQLO, opened to much fanfare and Susan Sarandon Thursday. Runnin’ Scared, though, decided to check out what kind of a scene it became Saturday night when only those legally able to consume alcohol were allowed to skate. Noting that the High Line’s The Lot does feature a bar, I figured the skating might be a drunk mess, but that’s not what I found. Even though I was told by long time skater Rick Casalino that drinking and skating have always been associated on the “adult night scene,” the “hardcore skaters” don’t mix alcohol and wheels. What I did encounter was a bunch of adults relieving their childhoods as they careened around the space, and a bunch of serious skaters who, as Casalino said, were “desperate to pass on our little secret of happiness and success skating has brought to our lives.” The High Line’s rink, which closes in September, temporarily fills what Rick said is a void in the city’s activity ecosystem: there are no in his opinion “real” rinks in New York City.
As Dan continued working on his feet and laced up his skates, he called over Janette McGilligan — a 42 year-old wearing Riedell skates, Daisy Dukes and a black tank top — to help explain to me their style of skating.
Dan described the skating they do as “club dancing on skates.” It was born in the 1970s — like “Saturday Night Fever stuff,” Janette said. It cannot be done on roller blades. Regulars congregate at various locations throughout the area, including Central Park, RollerJam USA in Staten Island and Branch Brook Park in New Jersey.
As Janette and Dan went on I asked them what they do about the people like me who don’t know what the hell they are doing on skates, assuming they might brush me off saying something like, “just don’t get in my way.”
“I’ll help you out,” Janette volunteered.
“That’s called public service, ” Dan added. “Someone will step up. We’re all about public service.”
About two hours later, after meeting my friends and satiating with a beer and kimchi tacos, I went to get skates. The minute I laced up the size fives handed to me with my $12 admission I began to feel nervous. Standing up on skates, much less moving on them would be a trial I wasn’t sure was even worth facing. I had nightmares of face-plants. I thought to myself that I should have gotten wrist guards, the one thing my mother told me to do when I had mentioned on the phone I was going skating for a story.
As the two friends I brought along skated ahead, I was paralyzed on the rink’s ramp, grasping the plastic barricades that made up its borders. A man behind me told me to go for it. I couldn’t. Eventually I made my way inside the enclosure, hanging onto to my friend, fearing that any minute we might both topple. Dan spotted us and came skating over to provide the “public service.” He at first skated beside me, and then, as he saw I needed even more support, moved in front of me, skating backwards, while holding onto my sweaty palms as I hobbled along.
He tried to teach me the “roll bounce” — yes, the title of that movie starring Bow Wow and Nick Cannon — a move that makes up the foundation of jam skating.
“You have to put the two words ‘roll bounce’ in your article,” he had told me earlier, explaining the importance of the technique.
“Left, right, left, right,” he instructed, as I glided, letting him pull me along as we gained momentum along the turns. Dan sang along to the Michael Jackson songs DJ Big Bob was playing, and gave me tips. I was supposed to bend my knees, move my hips, and keep my torso straight. Apparently, swaying side to side is not just an embellishment, it actually helps you perform the correct movement with your feet.
At one point Dan told me to cross my feet over one another, but when the wheels of my right skate grazed the wheels of my left, almost throwing me off balance, he decided that the move might be too advanced.
“If your hips go down, you go down,” he said as we went around a turn.
Having only had a couple of close calls, and actually starting to feel like I might be getting the hang of it, I thought I might leave the rink without ending up on the ground. But then, as Dan was skating backwards, guiding me, I looked up and saw us approaching group crouched on the floor. Someone had fallen. I shouted, and a second later I was on my ass. Dan was still holding onto me, but my legs were in front of me and the pain was radiating up my spine.
“Is your butt okay?” Dan asked.
“Yes,” I said, gritting my teeth, as he helped me up.
We skated a couple more laps and then I gave up. Dan gently let go of me and I let my self roll to the railing. The minute I got out of the rink I sat down on the pavement and took my skates off, deciding it was better to walk in socks to the locker where I had stored my shoes rather than risk the chance of brain damage or broken bones.
Back wearing solid footwear, I stood at the side of the rink as my two friends continued skating. I watched people like Dan and Rick skate effortlessly. I was jealous of their ability, and annoyed at myself for giving up so easily. For the dance skaters skating is a stress-reducing release from their daily lives, and a empowering mode of self-expression. Rick explained that it keeps its followers “extremely young.” That’s the case with Sonia Lee, a small woman Dan had pointed out to me while we were skating.
Though middle aged, Lee was dressed like a teenager. She wore lace tights, a polka dotted skirt and a leopard print top, and carried a blue flashing light and a white, sequined glove as she skated. After failing to get her attention multiple times, I asked Dan if he could send her my way. She told me that when she turned 40 she started doing Tai Chi and going roller skating, and hence was undergoing the process of rebirth. Now she’s between the ages of 16 and 15.
“So I’m very rebellious,” she said, smiling coyly. She then skated away before I could ask her any more questions.