Alexia Woodall’s favorite time to roller skate is late at night when she can blast Kesha and skate by herself. Roller skating originally connected Woodall to her competitive figure skating days in Colorado when she was younger.
“It was that sense of nostalgia for me,” Woodall, a sophomore secondary education English major with an emphasis in journalism from Bellevue, said.
In Nebraska, roller rinks have been on a decline. Lincoln currently has no permanent roller rinks, but Good Life Skate Center hosts skating events when possible every month at the Lincoln Sports Foundation.
LincolnRink was the first roller rink opened in Lincoln in 1936, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. Lincoln has a special connection to roller skating with the presence of both USA Roller Sports and the National Museum of Roller Skating. Max McKillip, the curator and archivist for the National Museum of Roller Skating, said the museum and USA Roller Sports ended up in Lincoln because it was one available option to move to the center of the country.
Lincoln also hosted the USA Roller Sports National Championships this past summer. McKillip said the competition brought over 1,000 skate enthusiasts to the museum.
“The people coming to the museum, it was nice because we had a ton of attendance and everyone that was coming was genuinely excited and wanted to learn about it,” McKillip said.
Roller skating has been around for centuries. The first recorded use of roller skates was in the 1700s, and the first roller rink opened in 1857 in London, England, according to the National Museum of Roller Skating. By the 1880s, there were around 3,000 rinks opened across the world. Roller skating went through several eras of popularity: the 1880s, 1940s, 1970s and 1990s.
In Bellevue, David Frank, 55, has owned Skate City for 17 years. He took over the roller rink in 2005 and changed the name from the previous roller rink.
Frank first got into roller skating at 6 years old in Colorado Springs, Colorado. When he was old enough, Frank got a job at a rink handing out skates. Then he worked his way up to manager and eventually became the owner of Skate City in Bellevue.
“It was the thing to do,” Frank said. “There was no question that if you weren’t skating — when we got into the teenage years — if you weren’t skating, you weren’t cool. That’s how cool it was.”
Like Frank, Woodall said she feels that roller skating gave her a “wow” factor.
“It makes me feel kind of cool,” Woodall said. “I’m not a skateboarder, and I hate scooters, and biking isn’t really my thing, but it’s like, ‘Oh wow, I feel pretty funky fresh. I got roller skates.’”
Frank said competitive youth sports impacted the decline of roller skating. When he was young, youth sports were local. Now, kids are busy with sports camps and traveling across the U.S. for games and competitions.
“Well, parents are so busy running their kids all over town that they don’t have time to do things as a family,” Frank said. “One of the main focuses that we always point out is that this is a great time to spend with your family.”
At Skate City, Frank said they offer a family discount on Wednesdays and host family skate nights to encourage family bonding.
Along with a focus on family, Frank has added different activities like roller hockey, skate lessons and running a daycare during the summer to help Skate City stay open.
An exhibit on the competitive side of roller skating showcases sports like roller derby, roller basketball and roller soccer at the National Museum of Roller Skating. The museum, which is located on the corner of 48th and South streets, has five exhibits on display to take visitors through the history of roller skating.
“I think it’s an important part of Americana,” McKillip said. “There’s a lot of cool historic things, like especially in the middle of the century that I was talking about, like small towns having events or things focused around roller skating, which is really unique to American culture.”
While roller skating has a rich history in the U.S. and across the world, it has an impact on individuals as well. Frank said roller skating helps children with their motor skills, coordination and confidence.
“I see that in our skating classes,” Frank said. “When a child is able to skate or do something that they couldn’t do on skates before like they learned how to skate backwards or they learned how to skate forwards a little better, you can see the expression on their face when they’ve achieved, they’ve gotten it. It helps them build that self-confidence.”
A newer exhibit in the National Museum of Roller Skating focused on the impact of social media on roller skating, including TikTok’s impact. On TikTok, #Rollerskating has over eight billion views.
Frank said he is hoping to see roller skating make a comeback.
“There’s an older saying that history repeats itself, and we’re hoping that it will,” Frank said. “We’re hoping that history will repeat itself, and we’ll see that surgence of roller skating like there was in the 80s and early 90s.”
Although there are no permanent roller rinks in Lincoln, Woodall tries to skate a few times a week. She said she wants to see more roller rinks in Lincoln, but until then, she’ll be skating on a gymnasium floor, rocking out to Kesha.
“It’s like how people who swim, like swimmers, are like, ‘Oh, my home is the water,’” Woodall said. “For me being on skates kind of gives me that feeling, just peace. It’s like, ‘Wow, I can kind of conquer the world.’”