Edmonton Journal

Skate expectatio­ns

- BEN BRASCH

Roller rink owner Greg Alexander was happy to see one of his regulars getting some shine for all his hard work.

It just happens his regular was Usher Raymond IV, who roller skated while headlining the halftime show at Sunday's Super Bowl.

Alexander owns Cascade Family Skating in Atlanta, a longtime space for roller skating in the Black community. Usher pops up at other popular local rinks, including Sparkles in Smyrna, Ga., but Alexander said Usher started coming to Cascade about a decade ago — sometimes skating there two or three times a month to stay sharp.

“Can you imagine somebody like Usher with 500, 600 people and nobody cares?” Alexander said.

Cascade is a special space for skaters, said Tasha Klusmann, roller skate historian and curator of the National African-American Roller Skating Archive.

“It is a vibe,” she said.

Roller skating has had a resurgence in recent years, Klusmann said. Skating is a perfect cultural fit for Black Americans, she said, because it embraces multi-generation­al gatherings along with the free expression of movement like dance and an opportunit­y to show off skills.

“It actually is the perfect mirror of the Black community,” she said.

Klusmann said roller skating started as an activity for the affluent in the 1800s because it required open space, like a ballroom. Once it came outdoors, skating was more accessible. The resulting popularity sparked a comeback for indoor skating.

Just over a century ago, skating rink owners brought in organs and people skated to waltzes. After the jukebox craze of the 1950s made on-command music more common, rink owners played recorded music in the '70s. Regional skating styles developed, Klusmann said, as rink owners played music that was popular in their areas.

Just as hip hop was beginning to form its regional identities, the Atlanta Aggressive style was born. (She said Usher showed off the Atlanta Aggressive style during his Las Vegas residency.)

Alexander and his aunt bought a struggling roller skating rink in Atlanta in 1993. They later opened Cascade on the city's west side.

A giant neon script reading “Cascade” greets skaters as they walk in the doors. Inside there's more neon and funky carpet leading to the hardwood rink. There's a restaurant and lounge on a second-floor deck overlookin­g the rink.

Alexander said he opened the business to give families a place for safe fun. He said he spends at least $100,000 on security yearly.

Cascade cost $2.5 million to build in 1999, Alexander said, and he was turned down by nine banks when trying to finance it. His mother died before it was built.

The rink's opening coincided with an early-2000s movement by adult Black skaters to spread regional styles countrywid­e. Cascade became a hub for celebritie­s — Beyoncé held her 21st birthday there. Many of the Atlanta celebritie­s Usher brought onstage at the Super Bowl — including Ludacris, Lil Jon, will.i.am and Jermaine Dupri — have skated in Cascade, Alexander said.

Alexander said 45-year-old Usher takes skating lessons but will also ask people at the rink to teach him how they just pulled off a move.

“Usher is a really good skater,” Alexander said. “He's not up there with the best of them, but he can hold his own.”

 ?? PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP/ GETTY IMAGES ?? Pop star Usher was on a roll at the Super Bowl halftime show, showing off his skating skills. The recreation­al activity has seen a rise in popularity in the past few years.
PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP/ GETTY IMAGES Pop star Usher was on a roll at the Super Bowl halftime show, showing off his skating skills. The recreation­al activity has seen a rise in popularity in the past few years.

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