And the Beat Goes On

NEWARK — “Clear the ground,” stated Nile Ahmid, a D.J. at the Branch Brook Roller Skating Center in New Jersey. It was round midnight on a latest Sunday, and he had been spinning home and hip-hop tracks for the previous three hours. “The next skate is for trains only,” he added.

The lights got here on, and 400 skaters introduced their wheels to a halt. On cue, they linked arms in prearranged teams of three to 10 rollers to type so-called trains, an indicator of the skating fashion particular to New York and New Jersey.

Rollers ranged in age from late teenagers to 60s, and had been each homosexual and straight. But by way of race, about 95 % had been African-American, a demographic that has each outlined and given historic context to comparable adult-night skating occasions in scores of cities nationwide.

“Skating goes deep for us,” stated Brandon Young, 27, a custodial employee in the Newark public college system, who skates at Branch Brook most Sundays and who teaches others the type. “It’s a whole culture.”

Neither Ms. Brown nor Ms. Winkler skate, but several years ago they became fascinated by a group of day rollers they happened upon in Central Park, assuming they were the last vestige of the roller disco trend of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Phelicia Wright, a property manager in Los Angeles who skates in many styles, appears in the film. “At church, you leave your problems at the altar,” Ms. Wright said. “At the rink, we leave our problems on the wood.”

The night skate scene forms its own intimate community. At Branch Brook, many participants have known each other for decades. “I found it incredible that people would leave their bags on the floor, rather than use the lockers,” Ms. Winkler said. “It would be seen as disrespecting your family if you stole from someone.”

The rinks also played a pivotal role in the early promotion of hip-hop. In the ’80s, when artists like Salt-N-Pepa, Naughty by Nature, N.W.A. and their fans were eyed with suspicion by many established concert halls, robbing them of normal bookings, rinks happily accepted them. Dr. Dre got his start as a D.J. spinning at Skate Town in Los Angeles.

Respect for the rinks runs so deep that at the peak of the gang wars between the Crips and Bloods in Los Angeles in the ’80s, places like Skate Town (in Bloods territory) and World of Wheels (Crips) were considered exempt from the conflict.

Even today, many rinks have signs that read “no saggy pants,” or “no hip-hop music,” which some interpret as discouraging African-American patrons. Other rinks ban smaller custom wheels, a style favored by many black skaters, because, the rinks say, those wheels harm the wood floors.

Mr. Russell’s clientele has included Russell Westbrook, the basketball player, and Beyoncé and Jay-Z, who recently ordered a pair of matching skates fashioned from classic Jordan sneakers.

Some cities now have no rinks at all, forcing enthusiasts to travel far to take part in specially advertised national shows, which invite skaters from all over the country to participate.

One rink still going strong is Branch Brook. For more than four hours on a recent Sunday, skaters raced, glided and mingled.

Wheel demons like Shaquan Moore, a 20-year-old security guard from Newark, blazed through the dense constellation of skaters like a shooting star. Others, like Sharon Lee, 60, of Elizabeth, N.J., a skater for half a century until a back injury sidelined her, come for the good vibes. “I just love to watch people skate,” she said.

Iva Kaufman, one of the few regular white skaters (and one of the oldest at 64), arrives weekly from her home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. An alumna of the Roxy’s roller-disco scene, Ms. Kaufman, who consults for nonprofit businesses, said, “It’s the only place I know where I can interact with folks who wouldn’t be in my normal social circle.”

“Skating in this space allows me to cut across race, class, sexual orientation and generations,” she said.

Antwan Vines, 25, a delivery worker from Newark and a star of the local scene (he appeared in Fabolous’s recent video), said he prefers skating to just about any leisure activity.

“If you go to a basketball jam, you can’t have the great hip-hop music we have,” Mr. Vines said. “If you go to a club, you’re always looking around to see who’s there. But skating offers a kind of fun that goes to the soul.”

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