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Metropolis / So SoCal

The Wheels Are Always Turning at Venice Beach

January 06, 2002|ANDREW VONTZ

Venice Beach is like one of those giant magnets they use in junkyards to move the wrecked cars around--except that the Venice magnet seems to draw the world's free spirits.

John Holtz, 60, of Marina del Rey, has been one of the faithful congregating to roller dance at the Venice Beach boardwalk for close to 20 years. He stumbled onto skate dancers one weekend with his wife during the mid '80s and has made it back nearly every weekend since. "The only difference between winter and summer is that in the summer you use SPF 15 and in winter you use SPF 2. That's the beauty of L.A.," he says.

Over the past 25 years, the free-wheeling gathering has become a local institution. Perhaps the biggest draw for Holtz is the scene's all-embracing character. "This is a place to come and interface with people from every region or country in the world and also of every age, race, economic class and education," he says, noting that Tipper Gore, Madonna, Tony Danza and Sharon Stone have laced up and rolled with the crew. "There are no leaders. We're all equals."

In his civilian life, Holtz is a distributor for Caffe Appassionato, a coffee roasting company. In his skate dance life, Holtz's chief responsibility is helping to transport and set up the custom sound system used at the plaza. The scene gained momentum after the inauguration two summers ago of Skate Dance Plaza, a smooth concrete area for roller dancing. The plaza can pull upward of 170 skaters per day on summer weekends and about 60 during winter.

Holtz has kept rolling through job changes, an operation that removed two vertebrae in his back and the L.A. riots, when skaters of all creeds and colors skate danced against a backdrop of M-16-toting National Guardsmen while conflagrations raged to the east.

"The best relationships you've ever had are the ones you built on the playground," Holtz says. "And this is like a big playground.

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