Since the 1880’s recreational roller skating has gained traction, both literally, as wheels have developed to smoothly glide along roads, and figuratively as skating has gained popularity across the world. The 1970’s and 80’s saw a skating boom with the rise of the roller disco, which brought skates together with disco dance music. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, skating, as a fun artistic form of exercise that can be done outside of the gym, is once again experiencing a surge in popularity. From roller derby, a speedy contact sport on wheels, to park skating down steep ramps, to artistic dance like skating, the versatility of this sport has undoubtedly kept it alive. Whilst in the 80’s, a plethora of TV shows and films captured the spirit of skating, today YouTube and TikTok tutorials are spreading the retro skater aesthetic. After breaking my arm as a child, trying to copy the moves from Dancing on Ice on my driveway, I soon hung up my roller skates. But during the most recent lockdown I was inspired to buy some quads and learn a few tricks.
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have led to the re-emergence of many hobbies, from baking sourdough bread, to learning to crochet, as those privileged enough to work from home gained newfound free time. In an attempt to get away from TV and phone screens, many, between Zoom calls and episodes of Tiger King, began learning to roller skate. With second hand skates available across Depop and Facebook Marketplace, skating is an affordable and aesthetic form of creative exercise that can be done away from the gym. And it has countless mental health benefits: I certainly found a childish playfulness and sense of escapism wobbling down hills outside my university halls. There is an expansive and welcoming online community of skaters, meaning you can teach yourself to skate from YouTube videos and connect with likeminded people across the world.
Throughout the history of skating, the media has both sparked and showcased the roller disco boom in timelessly aesthetic shots of skaters in tight brightly coloured shorts and sparkly retro leg warmers. From the roller-skating party scene in Star 80 (1983), to the camp roller dance depicted in That 70’s Show (2000), the roller disco has been both celebrated and mocked as a groovy scene of extravagant performance. More recently, in Euphoria and Stranger Things, roller disco scenes have celebrated the retro aesthetic of skating, depicting sparkly makeup, strobing lights and neon colours. These episodes undoubtedly attracted many to explore the roller disco scene. In the past couple of years, however, the influence of TikTok in attracting new skaters was unmatched. Actress Ana Coto has been credited with fueling the skating surge through her stylish TikToks in which she dances on wheels down her road and in carparks to popular music. TikTokers such as @skatefitness and youtubers like Indy Jamma Jones have gone viral for their easy-to-follow skating tutorials and impressive roller routines.
With the easing of lockdown restrictions, 2022 is quickly becoming the year of the roller disco revival. Roller disco nightclubs and bars which mix disco dance music with strobe lights, cocktails and of course skating are springing up as people continue to dust off their skates. On its opening session, I am ecstatic to visit Birmingham’s new nightclub on wheels, ‘Roller Jam’ next week to check out the skating scene.
Written by Victoria Wilson
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