Back in the early 1980’s roller skating was huge, in my part of the world at least. I think it started with Roller Boogie, a 1979 film starring Linda Blair (of The Exorcist).




Okay, maybe not “ever,” but pretty freakin’ awesome.

Roller Boogie!

Roller Boogie was the tale of Terry Barkley (Blair) and Bobby James (played by real-life competitive roller skater Jim Bray). She was a rich girl on her way to Juilliard to study classical flute, and he wanted to be an Olympic Roller Skater (I kid you not). She’s bitchy and he’s cute (albeit, a terrible actor). After shenanigans, this unlikely duo ended up having to save their beloved Venice Beach roller rink from mobsters by competing in a “Roller Boogie” contest. Of course he has to train her to roller skate because she’s god awful and guess what happens?

They hook up. Shocking I know. But in true 70’s form, they go their separate ways at the end, her to Juilliard, and him to Olympic Roller Skating training (is there a camp for that?). Pics:

Those costumes! That hair! The makeup!
The Cool Kids

If you’re having a hard time imagining, think Dirty Dancing but unwatchable (unless you were an eight-year-old girl from New Jersey, because I loved this movie and wanted to alternate between being Terry Barkley and Sandy from Grease at that point ). Do you see the parallels between the two movies? Snarky Handsome Man meets Uptight Bitchy Woman. Man has skill. Woman must learn skill. Man and Woman fall in love. Man and Woman master skill and good will ensues. Man and Woman part with memories, changed people. (How many movies fit that pattern?)

Back to roller skating. After Roller Boogie, my parents bought me a pair of metal skates– the kind with no shoe attached. The skate was basically a metal frame that fit around your sneaker, with four clanky metal wheels (lined up in pairs, young’uns, not rows like you may remember). I loved to tie those skates on and skate up and down our driveway, back and forth on Blue Hill Road, attempting spins and one-legged maneuvers like Terry Barkley.

Vintage Roller Skates

Eventually, my metal frame skates were replaced with super cool sneaker skates. They were actual sneakers with rubber wheels attached.

Sneaker skates (I think this may be the actual pair I had!)

Then, Utopia. The United Skates of America came to be in Wayne, New Jersey. Heaven. Every Saturday Mom would drop us off for open skate. The roller rink. A place of fun, glory, exercise, and potential lawsuits.

Pre-teens and teens from surrounding towns that seemed like foreign countries gathered for their skating sessions. The dark rink had spinning disco lights and giant speakers, a carpeted area in the center for resting and doing “tricks,” a “penalty box” for the troublemakers, and super cute highly skilled “refs” who wore black and white striped shirts and had whistles to keep everyone in line.

Skaters circled the rink, counterclockwise, except for the dreaded clockwise “reverse skate,” which caused my cross-over turning method to feel awkward and just wrong. “Reverse skate” was not to be confused with “backwards skate,” which entailed going counterclockwise, but back first. It took me a while to master that skill. Despite my vast experience, I was never fully comfortable on the skates. I held my own and kept all bones intact, content staying on my feet and people watching. My brother, however, was a maniac, lapping around the rink like a crazy person.

The roller rink was a tweeny girl’s paradise. My friends and I loved watching the boys. The better the skater, the dreamier the crush. We all loved the refs and anyone else who could skate backwards and do spins. They had celebrity status in our minds and we obsessed like the paparazzi. Since we attended our session every week, we’d get to “know” the regulars– the crushes, the refs, the couples. If a couple we liked to stalk wasn’t skating the “couples’ skate” together (usually an Air Supply song played for the “couples’ skate”) there’d be a lot of talk as to why.

The disco lights would flash and spin to the beats of the best music of the day. A favorite was Hall and Oates “Private Eyes.” As you skated to this song, whenever you heard a clap you were supposed to jump. “Private eyes,” (jump), “they’re watching you” (jump/jump), etc. Even today when I hear that song, I think of the word “jump” during each chorus. Queen was popular too.

USA’s popularity soared in the early 80’s. I even hosted a birthday party there (it was my 11th birthday and I wore a pink shiny sweats ensemble and forced my mom to do my hair in Princess Leia buns). By that point, my parents had bought me white boot skates with red wheels. They were laced up with rainbow glitter shoelaces and sported giant red pom poms on the toes. It was a good look. I loved those skates. Still, it didn’t stop me from visiting the USA Skate Shop in the carpeted part of the building (industrial carpet so you could still skate on it) when I needed a break from the craziness of the rink. Breaks could also be had at the skate-up snack bar. Always a challenge to skate with a tray full of hot dogs and soda!

Mine looked like this, but way cooler!

At some point in the mid-80’s our USA closed. I don’t recall if I outgrew it before then, or if the closing came as a surprise. I still have a lot of nice memories from those days though. I don’t know if there’s anything like that for kids today. A place where parents can drop off the kids and know they’ll be (relatively) safe. A place where friends can hang out and socialize and eat and drink and listen to music. Even get some exercise. The closest I can come up with in today’s world is the mall. Boring!

Let’s bring the roller rink back to its popularity of the late 70’s! Maybe a Roller Boogie remake is the answer! It certainly wouldn’t hurt. Wonder if Jim Bray is still skating these days and available . . . . hmmm . . . .

Thanks for reading and have a nice night.

[Sources:  Movie Poster pic:; Movie pics:  and; Vintage Roller Skates pic:; Sneaker skates pic:; Boot roller skate pic:]

19 thoughts on “Roller Boogie

    1. They were cool. I’d love to wear them around the house these days. All I do is walk from one room to another anyway getting things for everyone. That would make it fun at least!


  1. You did it. Now I can’t stop thinking of roller skating: the host at the diner; the roller derby tournament; my own metal skates and their nails-on-chalkboard.

    I wanted those sneaker skates so badly back then!


  2. It was the mid 90s that I started attend roller discos, it was the step up from youth club on a saturday night. Oh boy are you right about all the girls fancying the best boys. At the end of our night they used to hold a competition to see who could jump over a pole the highest, the support some of the lads got was cringe worthy in hind sight. Either way, these days just takes a certain song to come on and it takes me back to those disco nights.

    oh and i certainly couldnt go backwards very well, ok so i had to keep one foot on the floor the entire time and push myself with the other, just dreadful skills!!

    nice post 🙂


  3. My girlfriends and I are trying to find a place to go roller skating!! And I definitely loved roller skating over roller blading… Ugh… But, I loved that every rink had the black light in the back of the rink!! 🙂


  4. Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” for girl’s skate … i don’t remember what they played for guy’s skate but i sure did love USA Roller Rink and am still sad it is gone … i would go today if i could! (I remember an “older” guy who used to go there by himself. He was balding & a really good skater, from a previous era. He wasn’t going to let the changes in music stop him from roller skating!


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