You can hear Crazy Legs Skate Club, the last roller disco in Bed-Stuy, before you see it. The thumping sound of a bass beat wraps around the block as you near the Kosciuszko Street Salvation Army Community Center gym that transforms every Wednesday night into a roller skating rink. The price of admission is $15, or $10 if you have your own skates. The website for the club welcomes skaters of all levels, but believe me: This place is not for teetering amateurs or curious kids. For that, you can come back on Fridays, for the family skate night, or at 6:30 pm, when 81-year-old Crazy Legs founder and skate guru Lezly Ziering gives lessons to those unsteady on their legs. But from 8 pm to midnight, Crazy Legs Skate Club is the real thing.
The roller disco may have started in the 1970s, but until fairly recently, it wasn’t so difficult to find a rink in full effect in New York City. But then the South Bronx staple Skate Key shuttered in 2006. Chelsea’s legendary roller disco the Roxy followed suit in 2007. (The rental skates at Crazy Legs Skate Club were evidently gleaned from the Roxy: Each pair has “ROXY” stamped on one side and “CLSC” on the other.) The last full-sized roller rink outside of Staten Island, Crown Heights’ Empire Roller Skating Center, followed suit the same year.
Since the wave of closures, roller skating junkies have relied on pop-up parties, other roller skating-centric parties have popped up, like the weekly Dreamland Roller Disco at the Lefrak Center in Prospect Park, the weekend Central Park skate run by the Central Park Dance Skaters Association (another Ziering project), and the occasional Down & Derby party in Brooklyn or Manhattan. Since 2008, the Crazy Legs Skate Club has been a haven for serious skaters.
As a gym for most of the week, Crazy Legs doesn’t have the slick, arcade-like feel that the roller rinks of my youth had. There was no adjacent video game area or snack bar, no birthday party zone. Instead, with admission, there is usually a “light buffet,” but on the night I attended, not so. “DUE TO CIRCUMSTANCES OUT OF OUR CONTROL, THERE IS NO BUFFET TONIGHT,” a sign read. Instead, a woman sold cherries, pineapple slices, Pepsi, and bottles of water. Various roller skating accoutrements were also for sale: Metallic-colored booty shorts, leggings, and lights to attach to your skates. One T-shirt read “We can’t date if you don’t sk8!” and others had Betty Boop in various positions with skates on.
Lezly Ziering was sitting at the admission table in a folding chair, clad in purple shorts, purple skates, and a white A-line shirt. A long silver rat tail crept out underneath his purple baseball cap. In the roller-skating circuit, Ziering is a legend. A former dancer, Ziering started getting back into roller skating in his 40s. Numerous injuries sustained in the rink, including several broken ribs and a shattered femur, haven’t deterred him from the sport. He gives skate lessons and organizes parties. He has a hand in most roller skating events in New York City. If you saw him on the street, you might assume his occupation is magician. No, seriously, this is what he looks like:
When your intrepid correspondent later took a serious spill in the rink, Ziering was one of the kindly folks who helped hoist me back to my skates. “Should have come at 6:30,” he chuckled. “Here’s a tip: It’s slower in the inside track.”
And indeed, it was. Unlike a traditional rink, the gym doesn’t afford room for a fast lane and a slow lane. There is only the slow whorling mass of skaters, many of whom seem to have been born with their own pair of customized skates on. The sound system, manned by DJ Three, pumped out retro jams as people spun and showed off. The people watching here is as much fun as the skating itself. From a folding chair on the edge of the gym, where I rested after accumulating several bruises, I watched the array: A couple doing a kind of roller skating swing dance, a chain of men, each with their own pair of roller skates with wheels that lit up, a woman in gold leggings and a crushed velvet dress who looked like she had been skating in the early days of the Roxy.
This is the pattern: The speed skaters stick to the outermost circle of the gym. The center is for choreography. This is where impromptu partners meet to work out complex routines. I watched a muscled man in a purple tank top demonstrating a tricky spin to a man in a “DJ Smooth” T-shirt. One guy in a Simpson’s T-shirt periodically paused by the speaker to execute a series of pirouettes. In some couples, the more advanced skater would pull the less experienced one behind them, gliding along with their added cargo. This is a scene, it’s clear, with regulars and visitors and a social structure that you can just barely take a glimpse of as you see the skaters whiz by.
After a few hours of shaky laps and spills and wondering where everyone got those whistles, I returned to the entrance to turn in my skates. The man who exchanged them for my shoes asked me if I’d return to the rink. I hesitated. “I only started a month ago,” he said. “Skating gets into your bones, man. I’m telling you, it’s addictive. You’ll be back.”
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