We knew going into the night that none of us were roller skate greats. But we went to the rink anyway.
With open minds and wobbly legs, we found a steady stride at the Northland’s Winnwood Skate Center on a Thursday night, when it’s reserved for the 18 and up crowd. The disco lights, the soulful music and the rhythm of going round and round were easy to love.
And then came backward skate. Everyone else had to clear the floor.
I remembered this from my childhood. Usually, this is a good time to grab a snack and drink some water. I normally welcome the break. The six of us, though, were just getting into the swing of things. We hated sitting out. And it went on for at least four songs. I watched as couples skated in sync and did tricks and funky two-steps. Backward. I was in awe.
I wanted to skate in retrograde, too. But I didn’t know how. At least going forward, I could hold the beat. My wheels stayed on the ground. As grown folk, we often try new things in the form of food, travel and classes. But at a party on wheels in front of seasoned skaters? Nah. We’re too busy being adults to take a nose dive in public.
Over in the baby rink, I saw a guy helping a woman learn to skate backward. Midway through the wait, a few of us found ourselves in the teeny-tiny rink too. I skated forward and tried to turn backward and glide right into things. I tried to push off the rail. I tried to widen my legs to gain momentum.
Nothing worked. Finally, a seasoned skater named Mark told me to slow down. He said I needed to step into the technique — literally. He taught me to take one step backward and then another. Eventually your wheels start to glide if you give into your rhythm.
The problem for me was I could still hear the music. I could see the people in the party rink dancing on their skates to Earth, Wind and Fire and the Gap Band. I wanted to be that kind of outstanding. Or at least be able to accomplish a bop.
But I also couldn’t stand the fact that I couldn’t see exactly where I was headed. I was trying to control every move. And none of it was working. I’d move two seconds and come to a stop.
“It’s about patience,” Mark told me as he skated in front of me, reminding me of the step technique. “Trust yourself and don’t worry about how you look. So what if you fall? It’s how you learn.”
I say that to kids all of the time. So why couldn’t I accept it in a roller rink?
I tried it again. This time, I did exactly what he told me. The tiny two-step. Slowly. One foot and then the other. A small rhythm of backward steps on wheels. I trusted myself instead of staring out at everything and everyone and looking over my shoulder. For about 10 seconds, I glided backward. It wasn’t graceful or cute, but I was doing it. I tried a few more times.
“You’re starting to get it,” one of my friends said.
It’s going to take practice and patience, but by summer’s end, I want to join in when the DJ calls for the big turnaround — to put everything behind me.
Sometimes you don’t have to fall to pick yourself up. Sometimes you just have to get over yourself to move forward. Or in my case, skate backward.