Where teens let the good times roll

Friday nights, Skateland is the place to show tricks, meet friends and have fun

Maryland Journal

November 07, 2005|By SANDY ALEXANDER | SANDY ALEXANDER,SUN REPORTER

Inside a nondescript building in the corner of a strip mall tucked off Joppa Road in Towson, the hip-hop music is thumping on Friday nights, the lights are low and the teenagers are showing off their moves.

They just happen to be doing their socializing on wheels, roller-skating in endless circles around the floor at Skateland Orchard, where the decades-old pastime has attracted a new generation of fans.

The 23-year-old roller rink draws about 300 skaters on a typical Friday, when it is open until after midnight and attracts the most young people.

There are some older teens and children who come with older siblings, as well as a few dedicated adult skaters who can't pass up a chance to spin around the floor. Mostly, there are teenagers too young for a real set of wheels and looking for something to do besides the movies or the mall.

"I like the vibe of it," says Jeneal Jeffers, 13, of Towson, who goes to Skateland every other week. "They have the latest music. It's like everybody comes out."

Roller-skating may conjure images of 1970s disco music - or perhaps doing the hokey-pokey at childhood birthday skating parties - but it continues to have fans, particularly in urban areas.

Manager Jody Jaffari says that playing music the young people like keeps them coming. Skateland, one of a handful of rinks in Maryland, advertises itself as the hip-hop, R&B and old-school roller rink.

With a lack of teen dance clubs and other age-appropriate spots, "the roller rink is the only thing they have left," says Jaffari. "They stay off the streets and have a good time. ... Parents know it is fairly secure."

On Fridays, there is no entry after 9:30 p.m., although the skating session lasts until 12:30 a.m. Anyone who is not a parent or chaperone must be wearing skates. There is no alcohol, no smoking, no gum-chewing, no hats, no bandannas, no jackets tied around the waist, no break dancing and no hockey stops allowed.

There are, however, the hallmarks that have distinguished roller rinks for decades: the colored lights and disco balls, the bulky rental skates, the continuous rumble of wheels on a wooden floor, the announcements that the next skate is for couples, triples, or ladies only.

Skilled skaters bob their heads as they flow smoothly from one foot to the other into a turn and around a curve backward. Rookies cause pile-ups on the sidelines and sprawl on the floor in the center area designated for beginners.

Jaffari has been managing the club for 10 years and says it's like an extended family.

"We watch them grow up," she says. "Now they're bringing their kids."

During the week, Skateland also offers sessions that are popular with families, and adult-only times that draw some skaters, tapping into a revived interest in the sport.

The Web site Skategroove.com lists about 140 skate clubs around the country, including seven in Baltimore and another nine in the D.C./Maryland area.

Skate clubs for skilled, adult skaters who like to learn new moves "are really coming back," says Danielle Scott, a Morgan State University student from Catonsville who is also a Skateland employee and vice president of the Lady Gliders skate club.

Skate parties across the country regularly draw more than a thousand skaters to network and showcase their moves, she said.

Kenny Garrison, 20, of Towson learned to skate 2 1/2 years ago from his older brother. He belongs to the Dream Team skate club and calls the sport his passion.

"You look at people to see what they do," says Garrison, who is studying electrical engineering at Morgan State University. "Then I put my own style to it. ... It takes determination. In order for you to learn, you must fall."

When Garrison has a night off from working as a Skateland skate guard, he still goes to the rink to get in some practice. But on Fridays, a younger set takes over the floor.

"It's a place where we can be hanging out," says Erica Russun, 14, of Baltimore. "We stay out of trouble."

"It's the hot spot," says Russun's cousin, Freddie Phillips, 16, who was eagerly waiting for the DJ to play "Gold Digger" by Kanye West. "For some people, it's a home away from home. You can meet everybody."

Shanae Williams of Owings Mills brought several friends to the rink on a recent Friday to celebrate her 14th birthday. The cluster of girls shouted out their favorite things about the rink: good music, the atmosphere, being surrounded by friends and "lots of cute boys."

They started to bob in unison and snap their fingers when the music changed to a hip-hop mix, and named some of the artists they like to hear, including Ciara, Bow Wow, Destiny's Child, and Baltimore DJ K-Swift.

"It's my favorite place to come," Williams said.

sandy.alexander@baltsun.com

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