The Venice Roller Dancers

There is no better example of what makes Los Angeles a special place like Sundays on the Venice Boardwalk. Every time I get caught up in the news cycle and think the world has gone mad, I bike over to the grassy knoll between the skate park and roller rink and people watch.

Sunday’s are the best for soaking it all in, especially in the hours leading up to sunset. While the roller dancers blast their disco and old school R&B from huge amps they’ve rolled in for the day, the muted sound of a bongo beat carries over from the drum circle several yards away. Sometimes the skaters are blasting punk, adding to the mix of musical genres.

Not unlike hearing everything from Bell Biv Devoe to Black Flag to a synchronized Afrobeat, the diversity at the roller rink feels like the truest representation of America. People from all backgrounds, religions and ethnicities – complete strangers in many cases – connecting, having a laugh and getting their boogie on. No judgement. No animosity or prejudice. Just pure joy.

I suspect most people don’t know this, but the roller dancers in Venice during the late 70s are in large part responsible for the culture that exists on the Boardwalk today. I certainly didn’t, until I saw Roller Dreams (trailer) during the LA Film Festival this year, a documentary on the Venice Beach roller dancers and the adversity they’ve faced from local government and police over the years while trying to keep the roller dancing community alive. Many of them are African American.

Here’s the thing, friends. Black culture is American culture. So much of what makes the US a cultural powerhouse can usually be tied back to the black community. I’m so grateful to these folks for fighting to keep this Venice tradition alive.

A few of the OGs still dance every Sunday, including Terrell Ferguson who was one of the roller dancers who performed in these popular iPod ads. Now and again, the man who started it all known as “Mad” shows up to linger on the sidelines and watch the new generation of dancers (look for a large fellow dressed head to toe in black with a ball cap that says ‘Mad’ on it). He’s a civil rights hero, in my opinion. One of these days I’ll conger up the courage to thank him.

While hate groups are ever-present in the US, California included, I can’t help but think the kind folks outweigh the ignorant by a large, loving margin. Every time I need a reminder of this, it’s comforting to know the roller rink is a quick bike ride away.

venice-beach-roller dancers

Follow along @thelasessions

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