I spend most of each exam time promising myself a land of milk & honey afterwards, one where I can laze around and read without papers and other academic pressures looming. However, this is mostly a lie–the beginning of summer is, as usual, much more hectic than I ever imagined it could be. Between moving in, starting my new job, and hanging out with soon-departing friends, I’ve been spending much less time at my new summer home than I hoped. Bizarrely, however, I have found time to do plenty of rollerblading.

Rollerskating is a Barrel of Fun

Yes, that’s right, I rollerblade. I not only rollerblade for fun, I rollerblade for transport: I’m bad on a bike, and besides I just really like the sensation of whizzing down a street on 8 wheels. Save your strength if you’re going to mock me in the comments: I’m sure I’ve heard anything “clever” you were planning on saying.

This past week, I went late-night rollerblading like three times with sensei Dean (who sadly departed for NYC on Saturday. Cambridge will miss you!), clocking in miles all around Cambridge. Then, Mako somehow talked me into doing Critical Mass. This month’s ride took ~200 bicyclists, one guy on a skateboard, and me as far as Roxbury and back, so it was the longest and hardest I’d ever skated in my life. But so much fun! Earlier this evening, I (finally) took the time to service my skates and rid my bearings of much hair and sand (eww). All of this adds up to WHOAMG so much skating in my life.

So what better time to post the paper I wrote about rollerskating for Prof. Stilgoe’s Modernizations class that I wrote this past semester? The paper is yet another one where I skim the surface of many subjects, furtively dipping my toe in and sampling the water without committing to a full analysis of any one of them. These topics include: gender & rollerskating! Class & rollerskating! Jam skating! Rollerblade barbie! The history of rollerskating! Madonna! Rollerskating & childhood!

Following in (but adding to!) the tradition of the great Diana Kimball, I will post the first chapter and two other pseudo-random chapter to whet your appetite. If you want the rest, email me or leave a comment!

In 1979, the Harvard Crimson reported on the opening of Roller Power, a new roller skating rink in Cambridge. “Boston and Cambridge were ready for something new, a new form of exercise, a new way of getting high,”1 the owner claimed, and the article went on to describe the wheeled antics of various community members. This statement is doubly ironic, however: not only is roller skating not new, but its modern incarnation was actually invented by a man from Medfield, Massachusetts.

1Pam McCuen, “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” The Harvard Crimson. 03 July, 1979. Accessed online on April 15th, 2008.

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Even more popular than the single girl having fun on the rink, however, is the image of rollerskating as the ultimate girl’s night out activity—an idea that is equally appealing to both sexes.1 Advertisements like image 5 continue the trend started long ago by the pair of women dancing in image 2: here was a place where energetic and youthful women could go to have fun together. Furthermore, they are able to do this in a mixed setting while wearing clothes that would be deemed inappropriate almost anywhere else. Like the tiny skirt of the woman in image 4, the shorts worn by these women show a preponderance of leg and, more than likely, copious glimpses of underwear. Skating has always been a sport favorable to legs: even in images 1 and 2, we see that the act of skating reveals, as a manager of rinks declared, “the best lines in a woman.”2 Why the skimpy outfits are acceptable in rinks despite the more revealing movements expected is mysterious, but whatever the reason, the effects are that the rink becomes a place where it is socially acceptable for women to be dominant over men while being in full control of their sexuality.

1This statement (and several others in previous paragraphs) is, I realize, more than a little heteronormative, but it is said with the understanding that almost all mainstream advertisements assume heterosexuality in their viewers, especially in eras past.

2Traub, 57.

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Not only does rollerskating accommodate economic diversity, it is also surprisingly racially diverse—or at least often designated as such. In many of the images mentioned above, minorities figure prominently: Madonna and Simpson’s crews both include minority members, for example, and the Nair ad includes a leggy black woman throwing her head back in laughter. In reality, rollerskating—and especially rollerskating culture—is usually thought of as a predominantly white domain for a variety of reasons. First of all, the sport had origins in wealthy society, which was completely white in the early 20th century. Secondly, many of the modern manifestations of rollerskating culture also come out of predominantly white cultures—there is a glaring lack of minorities in the X Games, for example, and even roller derby, while better than extreme sports culture in terms of ethnic makeup, is still disproportionately white.