To lace up a pair of roller skates is to dive into the world of knee-high socks, the Bee Gees and eighth-grade crushes. In the late '70s, the United States had more than 4,000 roller discos. And though many have closed, plenty of spirited stalwarts are keeping that Saturday-night fever alive: Hit any local rink and you'll find a motley mix of weekend-warrior dads, wall-clutching tots and teens lookin' for love. Here's how to roll with the best of them.
What to Expect: A total time warp. The fact that it's the 21st century has been nearly forgotten at the rink, where fluorescent lighting and tan carpets add to the kitschy, hair-band-and-Top-40 ambience. Open skates last three to four hours, and some rinks offer special adult or family nights. With formal lessons few, learning is largely a DIY task. Newbies (and former skate kings gone rusty) might want to practice starting and stopping in the lounge area. Steer clear of showboating at first -- you don't want to join a backward skate when you're still struggling to stay on your feet. And once you're moving, keep going; should you stop on the floor, the skating official will blow a whistle in your direction until you start up again (major faux pas). Lastly, whatever you do, steer clear of any birthday areas -- those 10-year-olds are surprisingly territorial.
What to Bring: If you've got your own in-line skates (or the old-school variety), feel free to use them. But be careful -- lots of rinks won't allow dark toe-stops or brakes. If you don't have your own, you can always rent a pair (bring socks). As far as attire goes, teeny-boppers do get decked out, so that new mini won't look out of place. (Guys tend to go more casual, in T-shirts or Redskins jerseys.)Veteran skaters often roll without protection, but if you're just starting, don't be afraid to put on a helmet and kneepads.
Cost: At certain rinks or on bargain nights, you can get in free or for as little as $1. Otherwise, expect to pay up to $7 (skate rental is extra, about $2). Of course, you'll want to stockpile extra quarters for snack-bar nachos and a game of Pac-Man.
Where to Get Rolling
Anacostia Park Skating Pavilion. 1900 Anacostia Dr. SE. 202-472-3873. Free admission and rental. This down-at-the-heels outdoor rink may not be as pretty as the Venice Beach boardwalk, but you can't beat the price. Prepare to deal with lots of neighborhood kids, most of whom can skate better than you ever will.
Franconia Roller Rink. 5508 Franconia Rd., Alexandria. 703-971-3334. Admission: $6. Rental: $1.65. Sunday's Adult Night (no one younger than 18 allowed) is packed with thirty-something couples -- great if you remember Jefferson Starship (which you're sure to hear). If you graduated from high school after 1997, not so much. Bargain nights include Thursday (2-for-1 Night) and Tuesday (Dollar Night).
Rockville Skating Center. 1632 E. Gude Dr., Rockville. 301-340-7767. Admission: $6.60. With skate rental: $8.25. If you're all about Carter-era camp, this classic rink is for you. Featuring two disco balls and multiple light-up boards announcing the type of skate, its look hasn't changed a bit since it opened in 1978. The only update: the music (Nelly, Jessica Simpson), which has been known to inspire hilarious interpretive-dance moves by the ref.
Skate N Fun Zone. 7878 Sudley Rd., Manassas. 703-361-7465. www.skatenfunzone.com. Admission: $5-$7. Rental: $2.50. The most modern of area rinks, this kid-friendly space is a Chuck E. Cheese-like wonderland that also offers all-inclusive birthdays, laser tag, an indoor playground and a rock wall. Tuesday is Dollar Night; Saturday's Club Teen features a live DJ and hordes of 12- to 17-year-olds.
Skate Zone. Route 3 South and Capital Raceway Road, Crofton. 410-721-7155. www.sk8zone.com. Admission: $5-$6. Rental: $2.50. With group and private lessons available Saturdays, this rink was made for beginners. Watch for their mascot: Roller Roo, a bird-like marsupial on skates. Thursday is Dollar Night.