Chicago, along with Atlanta and Detroit, houses the most prolific urban roller skate dance scene in the country. While this form of skating is largely influenced by hip-hop music and dance, Chicago's style of skating is known as "JB," named after the James Brown inspired beats that our homegrown DJ's spin. JB skating is known for it's intricate footwork and standing routines, dubbed the "Crazy Leg," that are better seen then described.
In 2009 I made a short film inspired by the Chicago roller skate scene, and got an education in the art form from my skate coach and mentor, Elon Larkin. I learned all the tricks of the trade - broken-in leather boots allow for more ankle flexibility, small toe-stops are ideal for a greater range of movement, and wood wheels can add sliding motions to your routines whereas traditional polyurethane wheels grip the skate floor.
This underground art form is breathtaking to watch in person, so tourists and locals alike should head to Chicago's South side to experience it live. Just be careful about putting on rentals and diving in, the skaters are friendly but their speed is a force to be reckoned with.
If you want to get out on the floor, arrive early while attendance is low. If you're just coming to see the dancing, the best time to catch skaters stunting is between 11 p.m.- 1 a.m. Below are three rinks that truly represent the heart of Chicago skate culture today.
Best Rinks in the City
The Rink Fitness Factory on 87th Street opened its doors in 1975 and is one of the oldest and most storied rinks in the city. Cementing it's fame in Chicago, in 1997 The Rink was featured the movie Soul Food. Their most popular JB sessions are on Sundays and Thursdays from 9pm-1am.
Glenwood Roller Rink in Glenwood, IL is home to the most sophisticated and advanced styles of JB. When I was learning to skate, their JB Session on Wednesdays from 9pm-1am inspired fear and excitement in my heart. The unique Bavarian influenced architecture made it my location of choice for my film, Rocket to Danger.
Rich City Rink in Richton Park, IL is run by brothers with a passion for skating. It is also where I learned to skate during the All Ages Cheap Skate on Wednesday afternoons. The Cheap Skate will always have a place in my heart, but now that I'm all grown up I can finally do the Adults Skate on Mondays from 9 a.m.-1p.m.
The MLK Entertainment Center on 76th Street is a great community center with some excellent JB "practice sessions" and a bowling alley to boot. Just beware of the All Ages sessions on weekend afternoons where you might get creamed by a 6-year-old in rentals.
Fleetwood Roller Rink in Summit Argo, IL has a low-key JB session on Tuesday nights, but is mostly known for it's great family nights. It's also the rink most of the roller derby outfits from Chicago rent out for private practice.
Markham Roller Rink in Markham, IL has lost its luster as one of the premier JB rinks, but is practically a historical landmark as one of the first black owned rinks the country.
Lynwood Roller Rink in Lynwood, IL was the site of the 2005 film Roll Bounce. Many Chicago skaters who were featured in Roll Bounce, including Elon Larkin, are still skating in Chicago today. It is also famous for being the site of Dwayne Wade's 2007 birthday party. While not a common place to spot JB skaters, Lynwood is also home to a thriving artistic skate scene.
Orbit Roller Rink in Palatine holds one of the largest national freestyle skate events every year during 4th of July Weekend. You can see skaters from Memphis to Maryland representing their unique style of skate dance.
If you live outside of Chicago check out Skategroove for a rink in your area.
Halloween group skate at The Rink on 87th. Photo by Short Shots
Josh Smith and Natasha Thurman trick out. Photo by Ronnie "Snap Shot" Mckay.
Toe slides at Rich City Skate.
Elon "King Eway" Larkin slides on a combo of wood and polyurethane wheels. Photo by Ronnie "Snap Shot" Mckay.
Backwards skate with the women of S.A.W.
JB footwork at its finest
Buddy Love, manager of RIch City Skate, works it on one wheel
Ruff Ryders get airborne
Kings of the Ring: Elon Larkin, Torriano Holmes and Josh Smith
Natasha Thurman holds it down
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