Anthony Wright glided onto the wooden floor at Skate Palace in Temple Hills, stopped to adjust his black leather skates, found his groove in the tune blaring from six gigantic speakers and let himself go back.
On his skates he no longer was a 40-year-old married father and bus driver. As he soared over the boards, arms swinging and head bopping to the pulsating rhythm, he was 17 again, a junior at H.D. Woodson High School in the District, out with his boys, scoping honeys and celebrating another swim team victory.
The music wasn't '90s funk, it was '70s soul. For a moment, it seemed that the people swirling around him weren't other aging baby boomers but teenagers in Afros and bell bottoms, their dark halos dusted by residue from the wooden floor.
At Skate Palace, the 25-and-over crowd is served up a helping of nostalgia every Thursday night. The party, where admission costs $8, starts at 8:30 p.m., but things really start cooking about 10.
By 11, hundreds of skaters parade around in almost trancelike synchronization, dipping and turning, twisting and writhing to the bass-heavy beat, moving at breakneck speed, their hearts pumping as much from the memory rush as the aerobic workout.
"Skating is something that once it gets in your blood, you're going to do it," said Wright. "Your [spouse] is gonna do it. Your kids are gonna do it. Your friends are gonna do it. I like coming out here because it's people my age. I saw some of these people when I was skating as a teenager, and here we are again."
Brenda Walker, a manager for the rink, said Skate Palace is part of a circuit of skating activities geared to thirty- and forty-something adults in the Washington-Baltimore area that draw skating enthusiasts from as far as New York City and Hampton, Va.
Skate Palace also holds skating parties featuring gospel music, ladies', men's and family night events and weekend matinees. The rink hosts a monthly after-midnight "Adult Late Night Skate" at which skaters are treated to a buffet and door prizes.
For many of the skaters, it's their own club, a place to go every week.
"For a lot of people, this is the hangout," Walker said. "It's like going to a club or dance, except you skate. . . . People come out and have a good time, see what's it like, and many of them become regulars."
Rande Hoggard, director of marketing for the Roller Skating Association International, said indoor skating is enjoying a resurgence of interest in the retro craze. "Bell bottoms are back, and roller-skating on quad skates is back," Hoggard said.
"Adult skates are [a predominantly black] phenomenon because it's rhythm-and-blues music and it's coming from the '70s and early '80s."
Skate Palace regulars said the Thursday night parties are definitely a black thing.
The skaters identified other common denominators among themselves: Most grew up attending skating parties with their parents, who were often members of now-defunct skating clubs with names like Rolling Skulls, Midnight Rollers and Wheels of Fortune. Skaters remembered gliding across wooden floors so choked with dust they could identify each other after they'd leave the rink by a thin film of dust on their hair and faces.
They are more working class than middle class, more urban than suburban.
"Most of the people who do this are from the inner city. You won't find people who grew up in Mitchellville or Montgomery County doing this," said Greg "Mac" McPhail, 41, a management consultant for a computer consulting firm, one recent Thursday. "This has an urban flavor."
McPhail said majority-black skate parties have their own signature. Skaters "dance on their skates" to the music as opposed to skating to background music. "I've been to skating parties that are majority white, and people just roll around the rink. They could care less about the music," he said.
Eric Holmes, 30, an electrician for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, arranges his work schedule around the Thursday night skate parties. When he served in the military in Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s, he had friends send him "skate tapes" of music and skated around a tennis court. He got hooked on skating at age 5 when his mother would take him to the Kalorama Skate at 16th Street and Kalorama Road NW, the granddaddy of local skating rinks.
"She'd get me a box of popcorn and a soda and sit me in the snack bar while she skated," Holmes said. "I watched, and that's how I learned."
Most of the skaters said that as children and teenagers, they alternated skating to live bands at Kalorama and organ music at Alexandria Skating Rink. Kalorama closed in the mid-1980s because of problems with violence, and Alexandria Skating Rink was torn down and replaced by an office building.
Willie Epps Jr., 29, said his father put him on skates at age 2. "I'm young, but I'm an old-school skater because I learned back in the Kalorama days, skating with the old-school skaters. My father was president of a club called the Midnight Rollers, and I was their mascot at age 4."
By definition, the skaters said, old-school skaters are those whose revolutions are so marked by style and finesse that they draw shout-outs as they move along the floor, men holding hands with men, women linking elbows with women.
The skating parties may be the only place in town where twenty-somethings lobby for membership in the old-school club.
"Look, see that guy there? Definitely not old school," said Daniel "Pooka" Thompson, 27, a United Parcel Service driver. "Old-school skating is an art. You've got to look effortless. It's like the Olympics. You've got freestyle . . . you got relays . . . and you got the 100-yard dash. And we got some real gold medalists up in here."
Like Curtis Washington, an emergency medical technician in the District, touted by many as one of the most artistic of the skaters on the Skate Palace floor. Or Ronald Exum, one of the most athletic skaters. And seventy-something Howard "Honey Boy" Cordell, who skated backward in a shirt, tie and suspenders on a recent Thursday with a young woman on each arm.
Cordell, who has skated for more than 50 years, taught many of the Thursday night skaters and their parents. He remembers when African Americans weren't allowed in public rinks and attended skating parties at segregated venues such as the Lincoln Theater. Kalorama was the first local rink to integrate, which drove the white skaters away. "We had to battle to get in, then after a while we took it over," he said.
Several of the skaters said the Thursday night parties are like weekly family reunions, with many people meeting up with friends they met on skates years ago. "There's a lot of love here when we're all together skating," said Debbie Steele Hall, who attends the Thursday parties with her husband, Anthony.
"This is a positive thing that black people do," Anthony Hall said. "There's no fighting. There's no trouble. It's just people who enjoy skating and each other's company coming out to have a good time."
Ray Thomas, a bill collector, said she attended the Thursday night parties for several years and went to Baltimore on Sunday nights for another adult party until she "got burned out."
During her hiatus, her skills and leg muscles weakened. Thoughts of embarrassment and bodily injury weighed heavily on her mind as she made her return on a recent Thursday. After three minutes on skates, she headed back to the benches, knees wobbling. "I've been away too long!" she said.
Wright said he's glad he found the Thursday night parties to share his favorite hobby with people like him.
"Skating has a soothing effect as you glide," he said. "Something just comes over you. When I get out there, I'm not coming off the floor unless they tell me or it's time to go. I just listen to the music, and let it take me away."
CAPTION: "It's like going to a club or dance, except you skate," says Brenda Walker, a manager at Skate Palace in Temple Hills.
CAPTION: Scores of avid roller-skaters dance to the '70s music of their youth during a recent "Adult Late Night Skate" at Skate Palace in Temple Hills.