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Roller Skate Dance Start

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As Remembered by R Bollinger
(Member 1st Skate Dance Committee)


When "The Oaks" opened in 1905, live bands provided music for concerts in the park as well as for roller skating. Skating was a dress up social event for ladies and gentlemen.

Over time, the American public drifted away from roller rinks. In the mid-1930's, several rink owners met and formed the Roller Skating Rink Operators Association (RSROA) now known as Roller Skating Association International (RSA).

Robert joined the RSROA less than a year after it was founded and became active in discussions to bring the public back to "rinking" (roller skating in rinks).

Standardizing roller dances and writing new ones created a series of dances with varying skill levels. Logically, setting up a test structure and competitions gave skaters purpose for returning to the rink. Before Robert retired, he had the skate club members skate sessions. Their presence educated the general skaters. It used to be that club skaters took pride in helping skaters with lesser skills.

Skate dances were only half of this project. Music had to be modified as skaters had difficulty putting the roller dance steps to the current tunes. Of course, the organ was the preferred instrument as the sounds of a whole orchestra were at the command of one musician. Fred Bergin, an organist and founder of Rinx Records, was tasked with adapting music for skate dancing. Through the years the variety of skate dances has widened by adding tempos (number of beats per minute) and venues (i.e. blues, boogie, cha cha, foxtrot, march, paso doble, polka, schottische, tango and waltz).

As a dance skater, do you realize not all organists can play for you? The most accomplished musician may not have the added training with tempos and music theory to adapt songs for skating. It takes a dedicated, caring organist to learn disciples to play successfully for roller dance. Have you ever skated a dance to a song that just didn’t seem right? Most likely the organist converted a song to the wrong venue (example: instead of making it into a foxtrot, it was converted to a waltz). This type of error destroys the natural flow of the roller dance and makes the skater fight to execute the dance.

Last and most important of all, the ambience projected by the organist normally sets the mood of the session. Have you ever gone skating and felt worse or been so tired you couldn’t take another breathe but skating brought a new wave of energy? This is a quality that comes from the organist - it is not something that can be learned. It is a “mirror” of the “inner person” projected by the organist through music.

The skate dance program was working until the 1970's when the Disco era was introduced. Many rinks followed the “trend” offering disco music and put themselves in direct competition with other entities bringing back the problems of the 1930's. Unfortunately, skaters (and their families) who appreciated the dance music and supported the rink through the years were lost. Once this customer base is lost, it is impossible to regain.

Robert always felt good skating music, family orientation and consideration for the session skater were the keys to keeping a rink operating. He and his father kept “The Oaks” successful through two World Wars and the depression that followed the great stock market crash. He understood that people need a place to forget about the worries of the world and do something as a family unit.

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Competitive Roller Dances
First Edition - 1939


RSOA National Offices
5795 Woodward Ave.; Detroit, MI
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Officers - 1939 to 1940
Rodnery R. Peters, President
Saulters Pk, St Louis, MO

Earl Van Horn, 1st VP
Mineola Skating Rink
Mineola, LI, NY

Weston J. Betts, 2nd VP
Rendondo Rink, Redondo, WA

J. W. Norcross, 3rd VP
Mile Hi Rink, Denver CO

Fred A. Martin, Sec-Treas
Arena Gardens, Detroit, MI

Board of Control
Rodney R. Peters - St. Louis, MO
Weston J. Betts - Redondo, WA
Al Kish - Toldeo, OH
Fred H. Freeman - Boston, MA
Victor J. Brown - Newark, NJ
Earl Van Horn - Mineola, LI
Wm F. Sefferino - Cincinnati, OH
Fred A. Martin - Detroit, MI
J. W. Norcross - Denver, CO
Jack Shuman - Sandsky, OH
W.E. Kiefer - Saginaw, MI

Skate Dancing Committee
Fred J. Bergin (Chair) - Dayton, OH
Berry B. Rawson - Ashbury Park, NJ
Bob Bollinger - Portland, OR
Wm. H. Carpenter - Tunkhannock, PA
Earl Van Horn - Minolola, LI
Arthur Eglinton - Long Island City, NY

Figure Skating Committee
Robert D. Martin (Chair) - Detroit MI
W. E. Kiefer - Saginaw, MI
Wm. H. Carpenter - Tunkhannock, PA
Fred J. Bergin - Dayton, OH
Weston J. Betts - Redondo, WA
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Updated 02.23.2013