If you thought roller skating died the day Linda Ronstadt put away her satin shorts, you're in for a big surprise.
Thursday, September 6, 2001
Rise and Shine: Student Patrick Reed takes a few pointers from Del Monte Gardens skating instructor Brad Burchell.831 -- Tales from the Area Code
My eyes dart toward the door. I could make it. I consider turning on my two-inch heels and running on my presently skateless feet far, far away from Del Monte Gardens Skating Arena.
I have very purposely worn sandals--no socks--to this evening''s engagement. I am visiting the Thursday night adult skating class, and going sockless has been my ingenious ticket to avoid being pulled into the rink.
Or so I thought until now.
I warn instructor Brad Burchell that I haven''t been on skates since my 12th birthday party (although I could pull off a mean sitting duck in those days). I plead with him that I will make a fool of myself.
"That''s okay," Burchell says. "That''s what this is all about. It''s about having fun and not worrying about making a fool of yourself."
Then he gives me a pair of new socks and correctly eyeballs my feet as a size 9.
It''s not quite the response I was looking for. But I lace up, grab my reporter''s notebook and wobble over to the edge of the rink.
About 10 skaters between the ages of 13 and 71 circle around the floor on this and every Thursday evening, practicing edges and turns, polishing dance steps and sweating to thrilling organ renditions of ''30s and ''40s classics. Abilities run the gamut from beginners, who grapple with simply moving one wheeled foot after the other, to advanced competitive skaters like 50-year-old Patrick Reed, who weaves in and out of waltzes like Fred Astaire on wheels.
Reed, the only male student tonight ("Men are at a premium here," he jokes), has been skating at Del Monte Gardens for 10 years. Besides the group lessons, Reed takes private lessons from Keith Burchell, Brad''s father and owner of Del Monte Gardens. Brad''s brother Greg teaches lessons, too.
Between the three of them, the Burchell men instruct and compete in all three disciplines of roller skating: dancing, figure and freestyle, which includes jumps and spins comparable to those in ice skating. Tonight''s class will cover everything from basic instruction to dance and figure skating.
"What we teach is how to control the skates to go where you want them to go," Brad says. "You come in and get your time in, practicing, and we tell you what to do to get better. It''s not really an in-your-face lesson."
This is a relief to me, because I find that I am hardly an ideal student on my skates. As I hesitantly enter the rink, one of the first people I notice is a pony-tailed girl wearing a white tank, black jeans and lots of silver jewelry. I notice her because of her age--she later tells me she is 16--and because she is so good. I didn''t realize stylish 2001 teens took four-wheeled skating as seriously as their disco-era counterparts. After I catch up to her at the water fountain, Melanie Goken, a junior at Monterey High, proves me wrong.
She started taking weekly lessons in 1999, she says. "I saw a couple of my friends doing it, and I said ''Oh my God, I want to do that.'' I begged my dad for two years to get me lessons, and he finally caved in on my birthday." A bubbly girl with a wide smile, Melanie talks about skating with the same enthusiasm other girls her age reserve for boys and MAC lipstick. And then she''s off to do "runs," which are stamina- and strength-building circles around the rink.
I try to keep up, and I''m sweating within minutes.
"It''s very good exercise," Burchell says. "About 75 percent are doing it strictly for the exercise. If you get out on your skates and move just like this"--he demonstrates by skating at a moderate pace--"for one hour, you will have skated five miles. Each step is stretching about as hard as you can."
Presently the evidence for the fitness argument skates up in black leggings. Muriel Hart, a trim 71-year-old, says she does it for the exercise.
"Skating keeps me young," she testifies. "I come here every Thursday and roll around for an hour."
Growing up in New England, Hart learned to skate when she was 7, playing ice hockey on frozen ponds. Today, she circles the ring with the grace of a ballet dancer. And while the other students use roller skates, Hart''s blazing around on in-line skates.
"We discovered them in Europe--it''s more like an ice skate and much better looking. I''ve skated all my life--mostly I was an ice skater--and I missed that feeling. Now with in-line skating, it isn''t ice and it isn''t single blade, but I like it."
Hart says she''s known the Burchell family for years. Her late husband, Dan Hart, used to teach lessons at Del Monte Gardens, and Lita Derowski, another class member, was his skating partner at competitions.
Derowski, 63, rolls from being teacher to student in a few quick strides. She''s a student today, although it''s hard to guess given her vocals on the rink. Wearing a canary yellow top and khakis, she dances across the floor. "Step together, step cross front," she instructs fellow classmates. Sometimes singing along to the music wafting through the speakers, sometimes stopping to help a beginner skate backwards or critique a more advanced skater''s dance steps, she rolls along with confidence.
"It''s hard for me to remember what it''s like not to skate," Derowski says in a faint Massachusetts accent. "I started skating on the streets back East, in Massachusetts with clamp-on skates. At 16 I moved into the rinks--I was too old for the streets." She''s been skating at Del Monte Gardens for nearly 25 years, and besides taking lessons and skating in competitions, she also teaches.
Derowski rolls up to 13-year-old Larissa Munoz, an eighth grader at Finch Middle School, holds onto her outreached hands and skates forward while Munoz struggles to skate backwards. "Push out, now pull in," she instructs. Munoz, the youngest student in the class, has been taking weekly lessons since June.
"[Roller skating] is fun, and it''s hard," Munoz says, especially when it comes to stopping and skating on one foot. And when she or other students need more room and fewer skaters, or a slower pace for practicing, there''s a separate beginner''s pen with handrails off the main rink. It''s where I head to try my luck at skating backwards.
Soon it''s 7pm and the class is over. The music changes from an instrumental "Tea For Two," to Top 40 Bands--Destiny''s Child, Britney Spears and Lil'' Romeo. Colorful lights shine on the walls and change in time with the beats. The jeans get baggier, tank tops get tighter and the body piercings increase as teens flood the rink, coupling off, holding hands and nervously scoping out skaters of the opposite sex while rolling in circles as fast as they can.
It takes me right back. Roller Fever is alive and well.