If it seems like I've been lost in 'let's remember'... Billy Joel, Keeping the Faith

For some, recalling the happiest times of their lives helps to keep them sane and balanced when times are stressful like they've been over the past year. For others, generally of younger generations, hearing about how things used to be in the ago provokes a whole range of emotions.

Some love it - possibly thinking about how impossibly quaint things were back then, while others groan at the prospect of being regaled, yet again, with tales of a wondrous (and, no doubt, mythical) past. And then, there's the third type of thinker, the one awed by all of the changes that have taken place in such a short time.

Superprof is of the last school of thought. We encourage you to be, too, as we examine what it was like to roller skate in the 80s.

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80s Roller Skating Outfits

The 80s were, in many ways, revolutionary. Attitudes in the workforce were changing and women were coming into their own. Great Britain's first female Prime Minister was just settling into the job and, all over the world, women were striving for equality in the boardroom as well as in the bedroom.

Fashion was... let's just be kind and say it was undergoing birthing pangs. Carrot jeans and shoulder pads, rah-rah skirts and shell suits. Hammer pants made their tentative appearance in the 80s, which led to a whole new trend in urban and streetwear, exemplified by Wham!'s Wake Me Up oversized-print shirts and carefree style.

That was a great skating song!

Skaters wore wild, colourful clothing in the 80s
Bright neons and shimmery fabrics were all the rage at the 80s skating rink. Photo credit: the_exploratorium on VisualHunt.com

The colours were bright and dazzling; cool neons were heavy favourites. For more formal occasions and fun nights out, spangles, sparkles and paillettes on dark backgrounds prevailed. Even male skaters were not above wearing rhinestone-studded shirts and metallic piping on their trousers.

Did we neglect to mention that metallic fabrics were very much the rage in the 80s?

All of that sparkle worked very well in the roller rink. They picked up and reflected the lighting, contributing to the mystical ambience of Friday and Saturday night skate parties.

But skating rinks weren't open only on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Flashdance, Fame and Footloose, three box office smashes of the early 80s, contributed a lot to that decade's casual skating outfits, particularly the legwarmers. Later in the decade, the film Dirty Dancing brought about a turn away from the flouncy rah-rah skirts; suddenly longer, fuller ones were again in vogue.

For an afternoon at the rink, skaters wore casual clothing, albeit offset by fashion accents of the day. Legwarmers, oversized tops with pegged trousers for men and, for women, carrot jeans or stirrup pants (UGH!). Let's not forget to accessorise with oversized hairbows and fingerless gloves.

Would you skate in such an outfit today, either indoors or outdoors?

Skating Music in the 80s

"A million lights are dancing and there you are, a shooting star!" Olivia Newton-John, Xanadu

Some say that film was a box office disappointment while others rave about its kitsch. Still, after 40-some years, Xanadu retains a cult following. Is it because of the story? The big rollerskating scene, featuring legendary dancer Gene Kelley, himself on skates and leading the parade? Is it because of Olivia Newton-John's timeless vocals?

Or is it that glorious soundtrack?

The 80s was the decade of synthesized music and none did it better than the Electric Light Orchestra, the group that wrote and performed many of the Xanadu's songs.

Well, that's not exactly fair; plenty of groups and solo artists exemplified the genre.

Punk music was in its death throes in the last year of the 70s; it needed someplace to go - or, more specifically, something to take its place. Meanwhile, the exploratory sounds of new wave music were trying to gain a foothold. Unfortunately, the genre was rather undefined. It filled the void where pop music left off that rock, disco and punk couldn't quite fill.

That wasn't quite good enough to make it a legitimate style of music.

Synth-heavy and mystical-sounding, it only needed a bit of mainstreaming to make it mainstream. Gary Numan, frontman for Tubeway Army - a rootless and directionless new wave band, broke away from that group to record Cars, a heavily synthesised track that blew music charts out of the water.

Synthpop propelled skaters into the rink song after song
Synthpop compelled skaters to the rink in ever higher numbers. Photo credit: the_exploratorium on VisualHunt

With that, the dam broke. Synthpop, what the new wave turned into, became legitimate music. New groups formed seemingly every day, charting hit after hit. Some of the more popular acts of the time are:

  • A-ha
  • Duran Duran
  • Spandau Ballet
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
  • Depeche Mode
  • Tears for Fears
  • Eurythmics

The effusive joy of songs such as There Must Be an Angel and OMD's Enola Gay - despite its grim subject matter, drew hordes of happy skaters to the floor. The music's tempo was perfect for showing off one's moves and the emotive vocals spurred plenty of emoting from the skaters.

Gracious, exaggerated arm movements, swoops and bends, mesmerising twirls... the heights the vocals matched the skaters' energy perfectly.

And 80s music is currently enjoying a revival! Does that mean that rollerskating is making a comeback, too?

80s Roller Disco

"Try your luck, don't be a cluck!" Rick Dees and his Cast of Idiots, Disco Duck

On the other side of the cultural divide was another genre of music. Soul had its own billboard charts to measure its popularity. It had its own audience and spoke of a different reality than mainstream music did.

The soul music of 1950s and 60s America evolved into the more popular Motown sound during the 70s. It had a gospel music flavour and it was more malleable than its former soul incarnation. Acts such as the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross exemplify the early phase of the Motown sound.

Another offshoot of soul music, on the funk side, artists like Marvin Gaye, Al Green and Curtis Mayfield presented frolicking lyrics sung to a more danceable tempo. Soon, the Motown sound merged with funk to deliver disco to the masses.

Disco is a high-energy style of music featuring syncopated basslines atop a 4/4 beat. In part, its frenetic insistence reflects the counterculture it was born of: Black Americans as well as Latinos and the LGBTQ+ community - long before anyone thought of it so inclusively.

Back then, skating rinks promoted disco nights to capitalise on the segments of the population that would ordinarily not be welcome at a mainstream social event or leisure activity. Over time, the love of skating and the engaging quality of this style of music provoked the comingling of peoples that were still having a hard time accepting one another in any other setting.

Today, disco nights at the roller rink are not-to-be-missed affairs. Skaters from all walks of life and of any persuasion flock to the floor when they hear the suspenseful 'Aaaah!' of Le Freak and the opening bars of I Will Survive. I Feel Love is tailor-made for those looking to abandon themselves to the skate, and who could resist The Bay City Rollers' Saturday Night?

Fun fact: Donna Summer's I Feel Love was one of Soul/Funk's earliest forays into synthesized music. There is no roller skate versus inline debate for this one, it's a fun skate on inlines and quads.

And, by the way... did you know that the official video for I will Survive features a skate dancer?

A throwback to 80s wild styles
In an 80s throwback, a skater enjoys her rah-rah skirt and fuzzy boots. Photo credit: the_exploratorium on VisualHunt.com

80s Roller Skating

In the 80s, there were no smartphones, tablets or wearable electronic devices save for digital wristwatches, and they didn't do anything but tell the time. There were few home computers and those fortunate enough to have them hardly wasted any computing power on games.

There was no internet.

Cable television was just emerging but programming was limited to what was deemed acceptable by the Office of Standards guidelines. MTV was a big hit. The music video slowly supplanted standard music broadcasting formats, particularly the radio.

That phenomenon, in turn, prompted songs such as Video Killed the Radio Star (The Buggles) and Queen's Radio Ga Ga. Both of those songs were - and still are popular tunes to roller skate to.

Shows like Big Brother and Love Island would never have crossed anyone's mind to produce. In the 80s, those concepts would be been considered too risqué.

What did people do for fun in those times, then?

There was the pub and the cinema. One could attend sports events or engage in sports themselves. There was a club scene but it was still mostly underground and frequented by those rumoured to be of unsavoury character. There were parties. There was rollerskating.

In 1980s Great Britain, a land that, not too long before, had emerged from wartime austerity and, more recently, weathered the Winter of Discontent as well as other economic crises, people went skating to claim their slice of joy. They went skating to show off their new outfits and new skating tricks. They went skating to maintain their social currency and relevance.

They went skating because it was fun.

The 80s was the Falklands War and the horror of Chernobyl, the space shuttle explosion and John Lennon's assassination, the jubilation of royal nuptials and the stress of switching from O-Levels to GCSEs.

So it seems that Billy Joel song was right. The good ole days weren't always good and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems. Especially if you're skating.

Your turn to chime in: what are the rules for rollerskating?

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Sophia

A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.