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A Revival on Wheels

Moonlight Rollerway and World on Wheels are home to a local roller disco revival.

November 22, 2001|HESEON PARK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Darn!" The blond with a Farrah Fawcett 'do sits dejectedly on a bench, roller skates sitting next to her double-socked feet. "I just took my skates off," she says, "and now they're playing my favorite song."

Such is the dilemma facing skaters each during Adult Skate Monday Nights at Moonlight Rollerway in Glendale.

Congregating inside this well-preserved 1950s-era rink, next to Home Depot on a stretch of San Fernando Road south of the 134 Freeway, is a faithful bunch of "holy rollers" and trend-setting Eastside hipsters paying reverence to the deity of disco.

Outside in Moonlight's parking lot is a car with a bumper sticker that reads "I Love 2 SK8." Inside, the beat of Vaughan Mason & Crew's "Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll" moves a sea of skaters' heads, hips and bare bellies around the neon-lit rink: "Roller skaters, one in front and one behind/Bounce left, bounce right, it's disco time."

Lace on some $2 rental skates and you too can have a "Xanadu"-era flashback. Skaters sit on round red benches tying skates on.

There is a candy concession stand near the bleachers, where a group of skaters celebrates a birthday. Jersey-shirted "skate referees" patrol the cavalcade to prevent pile-ups and backward-skating accidents. Sitting at the far end of the rink is the antiquated organ that Moonlight's owner, Dominic Cangelosi, plays for skaters on Tuesday nights.

Skater Victor Brown predicts a roller revival is afoot.

"It's going to be the next cultural wave," proclaims Brown, an experienced and acrobatic skater.

Besides the non-impact cardiovascular benefits, Brown believes skating is an art. "We skaters have a philosophy. It's spontaneous, creative, it combines body movement and rhythm, and it can be spiritual, like jazz. It's a new cultural art form."

Max Levin, 30, has been coming to Moonlight for six months.

"I think that the whole experience attracts people the same way dancing does," Levin says. "Music and movement. Skating allows people who may not be as graceful on the dance floor to feel good at the rink."

Moonlight's deejay Tony (who wears skates) takes requests and spins old-school funk classics from Jackson 5, Earth, Wind & Fire and Sugarhill Gang for a crowd of adults in their late 20s to early 30s.

"People are pretty open. There are less walls up," Levin says. The no-alcohol policy is also a bonus. "No liquor has two sides: good clean fun on one hand and less idiocy on the other. The Moonlight is classic, but they need to dim the lights and use the disco ball."

Members of this colorful booty-shaking tribe, which draws members from Venice to the Valley, also can be found skating at Space Is the Place, held on the fourth Saturday of each month at World on Wheels on Venice Boulevard in L.A.

"The die-hard roller skaters are great," says skate diva Riley More, who promotes Space Is the Place along with two deejays from the Long Beach soul-funk club Goodfoot. "Some are computer geeks, some are total speed skaters; everyone has a story.

"Some of the old roller disco guys I've talked to were in 'Xanadu'; one taught James Caan how to skate in 'Rollerball.' Some were professional roller skaters on the Pepsi skate team."

Space Is the Place reduces the nostalgia factor of roller skating and replaces it with up-tempo deejays, a bar with lounge and an upstairs dance floor. Since its inception earlier this year, the monthly skate-a-ramas have proven immensely popular with the music/dance club crowd, packing them in at 300-plus capacity.

Both skating venues are a fresh alternatives to an at-times doldrum L.A. nightlife, even for jaded scenesters who've been there, done that.

"Kids are grinning ear to ear the whole time, like it's the most fun they've had in their lives," More says. There's no snobby pretension, she says, just big smiles.

Skating reflects the same trends pop culture is tapping into, says More, who started skating to get in shape for snowboarding. "Puma and Skechers are making new sneaker skates, and fashion companies are putting out late '70s, early '80's punk-rock, new-wave clothes and glitter/rhinestone T-shirts, which work well with roller disco." Ultimately, it's roller disco's free-wheeling, feel-good vibe that's drawing the crowds to Space Is the Place and Moonlight Rollerway.

Levin believes the appeal lies in skating's retro roots. It affords a "return to the childhood so many of us remember or may have lost. We [this generation] grew up fast. If you look closely, you will see skaters who were adults in the '60s and '70s, and they're still skating. It just feels good."

* Adult Skate Monday Nights, 8:30 to 11 p.m. at Moonlight Rollerway, 5110 San Fernando Road, Glendale. (818) 241-3630. 18 and older. $5, admission; $2, skate rental.

* Space Is the Place, this Saturday and the fourth Saturday of every month, 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., at World on Wheels, 4645those Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 933-3333. 18 and older. Upstairs lounge and bar, 21 and older. $10 admission includes skate rentals. Own skates and inline skates welcome. http://rollerdisco.goodfoot.org.

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