Rollerball. Xanadu. Heather Graham in Boogie Nights. Those synchronized skaters rallying around Ferris Bueller on the streets of Chicago.
Popular culture has managed to make rolling around in a circle on little wheels simultaneously hip and square. And in the early ’90s, a new fad had Philadelphians strapping on knee pads and helmets all along the Schuylkill waterfront, teetering around with arms outstretched, pitched forward in a roll toward certain death. Even your dad got into the act, God help him.
It was a free-for-all, but a lucrative one for a little company called Rollerblade. Ahead of the curve, too, was a young Wharton grad named Jen Goldstein. An early inline skate instructor, she says she taught everybody from local kids to Julius Erving, John Cusack and even Bonnie Blair to skate up straight, and went on to open two successful local gear shops, Bladin’ Action and Drive Sports. Now she’s teamed up with musician Peter Panagakos to form the instructional band Phat SK8trax, whose first release is called “The Boogie Back Rap,” in which she reveals the secrets to skating backward:
“I wrote this rap, so ya can boogie back, to roll in reverse, follow this track, stand up first, point arms ‘n’ nose/ before ya boogie back, ya betta look jack, bend both knees and start like that, get ready to roll in the boogie back pose, look, bend, direct, weight on toes/ now ya can do what ya always wanted to, groove ya boogie back, be a so cool cat ”
You can listen to clips at www.skate 101.com, but for now, think Blondie’s “Rapture,” just as dated and a little less cool. Panagakos’ synth-funk music is a throwback to old-school rap, with Goldstein’s girlish voice rattling off the steps. But it’s fun to think of grown men and women gliding around to one of the EP’s seven versions of the song — three mixes with the instructional lyrics and three karaoke versions (the disc is available at Drive Sports and Spruce Street CDs and online at www.cdbaby.com/ phatsk8trax for $9.99).
Whether people can actually concentrate on all this long enough to learn how to skate butt-first remains to be seen, but two longtime teenybopper hangouts are starting to play the track. The newly remodeled Cherry Hill Skating Center (where Phat SK8trax is planning an EP release party later next month) and Palace Roller Skating Center in Northeast Philly have the “Boogie Back Rap” in current rotation.
The song “opens up with ‘everybody clear the rink, backwards skaters only,'” says Goldstein. “This is what every rink DJ announces for the backwards song at every public session. It’s funny, at every kids’ session, they still do the hokey pokey and chicken dance, so now they are playing the ‘Boogie Back Rap’ and the adults love it too!”
Goldstein’s personality — perky, un-self-conscious and completely earnest — seems tailor-made for her hobby-turned-career. She speaks in the lingo of her lyrics and is clearly proud of her collaboration with Panagakos, a Montreal transplant. They’re planning to shoot a video and are in the process of putting together an instructional DVD called Skate 101, which they say will teach beginners to “skate, turn, brake, stop and escape, six different ways, prevent the eight mistakes beginners make, change terrains, smooth like a snake, and maintain ya skates!”
Even though inline skating has transcended fad status and become a fairly common recreational sport, Goldstein still takes proper instruction seriously. “I definitely want to stress that everyone should take a class, since it only takes an hour to learn everything,” she says. “Also, I only recommend people who have taken a class groove their boogie back and, of course, it should only be in a controlled environment like a nearby rink.”