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The Golden Age of Roller Skating

When you think of your favorite sport, what comes to mind? Perhaps football? Or, America's pastime - baseball? But what if I said "roller skating"? Would you agree?

While visiting with a group of seniors this week, I asked a simple reminisce question, “What is your favorite sport?” Overwhelmingly the answer was "roller skating!" Roller skating? I didn’t even think of roller skating as a sport but boy was I put straight!

Most everyone in the group remembered fondly their time as a roller skater in the 40's and 50's. In fact, one gentlemen shared that he was a three time National Roller Skating Champion in the forties. Yes, national champion! It’s so easy to overlook the athletic prowess of a group of seniors as they are flanked by walkers and wheelchairs but their lives are rich with stories and adventures.

When I got home, I googled this gentleman and it turns out he was a roller skating pairs dance champion. I can hardly skate a straight line much less perform a waltz on eight wheels. The day after my first roller skating experience had me looking and walking as though I’d been in a street fight. All I did was fall and I was covered in bruises. Now, if I’d had Tom (the national champion skater) as my instructor, I would have fared far better.

My interest was piqued so then I starting poking around on the internet to learn a little more about roller skating. Roller skating became increasingly popular in the late 1930's when the Great Depression began winding down as more families could now afford entertainment. In 1937 the Roller Skating Rink Operators Association formed. The rink owners were determined to make roller skating wholesome again. During the Depression the abandoned rinks became hangouts for rowdies and ruffians. The rink operators needed to change that and indeed, they did. Part of their strategy was to enforce strict dress codes. Here’s an example of one rink’s dress code in 1944:

“Gentlemen must wear jackets or sweaters while skating. Sweaters must have sleeves. Collar and tie must be worn unless the skater is wearing a neat sport shirt, subject to the approval of management. So called “polo” shirts are not to be confused with sport shirts, for they are never permitted.”

In 1938, roller skate dance became a competitive sport, and soon after brought forth numerous dances created especially for roller skaters. The Golden Age of roller skating was in full swing. And throughout the 40's and 50's, roller skating was wildly popular. There was a bit of a resurgence in the 70's with disco skating but the popularity of earlier years was never quite regained.

It's no wonder my informal survey of seniors revealed roller skating as their favorite sport There are many precious memories of those times, even for those who weren’t national champion caliber. What memories do you have about roller skating? Were you a klutz like me or a star like Tom? During your next family function, consider asking the group about their roller skating memories. I’ll bet you’ll hear some fantastic stories!

Remembered Well.

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