It all started at a roller skating rink in New Jersey. It was in the early 80s and fluorescents were all the rage in the world of fashion. Michael Jackson had just begun his ascent to becoming The King of Pop and Steve Perry was trying to make a name for himself as a solo artist.
I wanted to skate but when I set foot on the rink I couldn’t last for more than a few minutes. I would hang onto the railing until I got up the courage to skate on my own, only to be reminded of my sheer lack of ability. But this time I refused to be brought down by self-doubt. I was the little train that could. I was going to be a disco skating queen.
And so I was. I trained in my parents’ basement for months. Several times a week I headed downstairs with a pair of used skates and a boom box. At first I just wanted to learn to skate in one direction without falling. Once I mastered that technique I upgraded my objective to the development of a successful crossover turn. Soon I was crossing while cruising backwards. It was pretty sensational. Eventually I was throwing in little disco embellishments. I was John Travolta on skates. I even practiced jumping over boxes and landing on one leg. I don’t know how someone as uncoordinated as myself learned to do all of this, but I guess that says something about what we as human beings can accomplish when we set our minds to it.
Months had passed and it was time to make my grand return to the rolling skating rink. I strutted in wearing an oversized sweatshirt and I had lime green socks pulled over my favorite stonewashed jeans. My neon pink, rubber earrings poked out through strands of teased hair. I chose a locker in a prominent part of the rink and changed out of my walking shoes into my new, shiny white skates. Samantha Fox was booming out over the loudspeakers as I glided towards the rink. Within seconds I was off! My first crossover turn put me in the spotlight. I felt like an Olympian.
Among my admirers was a group of black girls that had become my closest friends. Indeed, it was during this time in my life that I started to believe I was black. I mean, of course I knew I was Caucasian but my abilities as the Hip-Hop skater added to my conviction that I was meant to be a sister. I was, in fact, possibly the first middle school student in New Jersey to perform the Running Man on wheels.
My friends taught me to speak Jive and I taught them to skate. I took them onto the rink in a Congo line of sorts. I skated backwards and called out instructions to them while they skated forwards and hung onto me for dear life. We were quite the spectacle.
I still remember one day when I was showing off in a solo run. A young sister had fallen just as I was approaching her. I was going way too fast to slow down. If there had been speed limits in a roller skating rink I’m sure I would have violated them. But there, in a split second, I had to figure out how to avoid rolling over this young girl. I’m not sure if I believe in God, or just good luck, but whatever it was shared the rink with me that day. As I came barreling down towards the fallen girl I leapt into the air, jumping far above her head, and landed in perfect disco form. I was a hero.
Of course, my days of glory in the rink came to an end. By the mid 80s, roller-skating was no longer the activity of choice. I think the rink closed down shortly after my class moved onto high school. When I entered college, Samantha Fox had been dropped from the airwaves completely and Nirvana was about to make its debut. My sisters and I had lost touch completely.
I returned back to New Jersey for a short time after completing my bachelor’s degree. Like most recent college graduates, I had to live with my parents while I looked for a job and an apartment. I had outgrown my New Jersey skin and often felt bored by this suburban lifestyle. Sometimes my mom would take me for a walk in the park nearby. I used to watch people roller blade past me and I began to think I might be able to participate. After all, if I had learned to roller skate in the late days of disco, how hard would it be to learn to roller blade?
The next time my mom and I went to the park together I took along a pair of training blades. It sort of felt like roller-skating but the stopping mechanism was completely different. Plus, skating in a park was far more precarious than skating in a rink. I had rough terrain and hills to fight.
As I was skating down one very small hill, my roller blades began to pick up speed. There were three little old ladies strolling along in front of me. I knew I wouldn’t be able to replicate the same move from Junior High, and since I didn’t yet know how to stop I called out to them to move. Sadly, their hearing must have been going because they didn’t respond to my pleas. As I gained ground I made a snap decision to avoid a head-on collision by throwing myself into the grass nearby. I made it just in time. The little ladies heard me crash and turned around to make sure I was OK. They had no idea that I made that sacrifice for them.
As I dizzily sat up I vaguely noticed a group of young women coming towards me. I managed to mumble something about not having the same skills I had as a girl, and that roller blades weren’t anything like roller skates. I still couldn’t quite make out their faces, but I heard one of them say to me, “Andrea? Andrea Sorkin? Girl, what you been UP to?” The girls who came to my rescue were the very same girls that I taught to skate back in the day. By that time I was a total stranger to them, but they came rushing to lend a helping hand anyway. It turns out they were my sisters after all.