One last spin in Madison area roller rinks

Roller skating rinks seem a relic of the past as Fast Forward Skate Center closes in Madison.
Old photographs of roller skaters are collaged on a white background.
Photos courtesy of (clockwise from top left) Theresa Aldrich Googins; Clark Heller; Fast Forward

Generations of Madisonians have flocked to local roller skating rinks, felt the rush of leather-and-popcorn-infused air blowing back feathered bangs or tickling sweat at the edges of tight fades. In a kaleidoscope of flashing disco lights or black-light glows, kids lit up like comets. Couples clasped palms in bubblegum-snapping tandem, solo acts arched triumphantly beneath limbo sticks. Forward and backward — but always counterclockwise — ordinary dance moves morphed into magic on wheels.

Around and around they went, school groups and Scout packs, birthday party guests and families. Newbie skaters teetered with arms out, or clung to each other for balance before falling as one. DJs spun Top 40 tunes. Pop country and hip-hop beats thrummed in the background against the rhythmic drone of wheels turning, the sound of time slipping away.

In the not-so-distant past, there were 43 registered skate centers in Wisconsin. Today there are 15, and only one is in Dane County. After this winter, when Fast Forward Skate Center closes, there will be none in the Madison area.

West-siders lost The Wheel Thing in the 1980s, east-siders lost the Rollerdrome in the 2000s, and once the snow melts this spring, demolition crews will raze the south side’s Fast Forward to make way for a $20 million affordable housing project. We need affordable housing. We also need a place where kids can go to feel free.

Justin Alling, who worked at Fast Forward for 24 years and served as manager and then operator, is now crowdsourcing a new center. Learn more at madtownskate.com.

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