American pastime rolls back into spotlight

An American pastime is on a roll lately. Roller skating is making a comeback.

Whether you know it from Charlie Chaplin's "The Rink" released in 1916 or Olivia Newton-John's 1980 film, "Xanadu," roller skating is embedded in American culture.

While the sport suffered in the last decade, 14 new rinks have opened across the country in the past year, thanks to a collection of avid skaters around the country.

Eighty-one-year-old Lezly Ziering, founder of the Central Park Dance Skaters, has been keeping the sport alive since he first strapped on skates in the 1940s.

After 35 years as a professional dancer, he converted his dance studio into a dance-skate school.

"It was an incredible school, it was known all over the world, and people came from all over the world to Lezly's Dance and Skate School," Ziering said.

Although an accident with one of his derby girls two years ago sidelined his skating career, he still champions the sport. He runs the Crazy Legs Skate Club, a weekly jazz, hip-hop and R&B-fueled skate party.

"It's such a heady thing to see people enjoying what they're doing as much as skaters do," Ziering said. "It's something that fills your whole being and mind and takes over."

For Lola Star, a skating entrepreneur and visionary behind the Dreamland Roller Disco parties, it was pioneers like Ziering who inspired her.

"He's the godfather. He's it," Star said. "He has just done so much to keep roller-skating culture alive."

Born in Detroit, Star's passion for roller-skating was born of a different era.

"I've been really influenced by the '90s. When I was in high school and college I was really involved in the whole rave scene," Star said.

But when Lola opened up her first rink in Coney Island in 2008, roller skating was on the decline. She was forced to close her rink in 2010 because it wasn't financially sustainable.

"A roller rink requires a lot of space, hence a lot of square footage, so it's hard just from a business perspective to make that a viable solution," Lola said.

Michael Feiger, who closed the 60-year-old Empire Roller Rink in 2007, operates New York's newest Pier 2 Roller Rink in Brooklyn Bridge Park. While before he had to charge a higher entrance fee to break even, now he said families are the key to bringing the sport back to spotlight.

"In the roller skating business, we can do good," Feiger said. "We can be the center of the community, we can be a place where kids can come and be safe and have a good time."

Now it's up to people like Ziering, Lola and Feiger to keep the trend going.

"I think that there's a big opportunity to come back in a big way and reinvent itself and be a new type of experience, because I think the need is out there and I think people are ready for it," Lola said.

Speaking from his years of wisdom, Ziering assured, "I don't think anything where people move can die."

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