“Jealous Fellas” by Dimples Tee:

Miguel's hair has been shoulder-length ever since. "I like it feathered on the top and long in the back. They call it a mullet."

Skaters in midshuffle at Super Wheels.
Skaters in midshuffle at Super Wheels.
Scott Shea
Scott Shea


Click on the photo to view the Roller Jam slideshow.

Miguel has to accompany his mother on an errand the following morning. So he ducks out early. As he exits Galaxy, 15 people start to shuffle-skate. Shuffling involves a group of skaters performing perfectly synchronized movements: a slight bounce down the stretch of the rink, the right leg crossing over the left to navigate the curves. If done right, shufflers achieve the same harmony as a swarm of bees.

Jeff Allen is at the front of the shuffling pack. The line snakes past a cluster of bystanders, and the 43-year-old spots a familiar face. He shouts: "C'mon, old man!" The white-haired skater dutifully rushes to catch up with the group.

They're bouncing to "Jealous Fellas," a 1987 Miami bass track by Dimples Tee. Scott Shea, a 44-year-old cashier at Publix, assesses the formation from the sidelines: "He has five, six guys behind him," Scott says of Jeff, with competitiveness in his voice. "Years ago, my record was 12." Scott has been skating for 30 years. "I've been doing it so many years," he explains, "that I'm popular. Like, that girl just said, 'Hi Scott.' "

Scott enjoys a good shuffle, although tonight he seems to be concentrating on the females. He used to have a female skating partner who would shuffle behind him. And he had another before her. He would have liked to have made one of them his girlfriend. Maybe there's another skating partner out there waiting to be found, I suggest, pointing to a good-looking gal. "That girl is married," he says. "But there are, like, four guys that she flirts with here. She leaves her husband at home."

Finding that special someone at the local roller rink is getting harder. The DJs no longer announce couples skate. Worse, there are fewer skaters to choose from and fewer rinks. Only three rinks in South Florida still feature adult nights. And the roller rinks themselves seem like an endangered species. Nationwide, there are fewer than 2,000 rinks today, half as many as in the early 1980s, estimates John Purcell, executive director of the trade group Roller Skating Association International. Some rinks couldn't afford the legal liability, and others sold out during the real estate boom.

Scott hits the floor, his legs pushing gently off the wood, arms folded across his chest. His movements are slow and meandering, almost melancholy, as his shaved head disappears down the rink.

The crowd on the floor thins. I'm rolling along, spacing out, when Jeff asks me to confirm the rumor that I'm there to "write a report." Indeed. And the whole class will get to read it.

Jeff describes himself as a diehard skater. "You could cut my legs off and I'd probably still skate." As proof, he lifts one of his pant legs to reveal a knee bandage. He fell six weeks earlier, got water on the knee, and kept skating.

Jeff shrugs when I ask why he's the alpha male during the shuffle skate. "I've always been the leader," he says. He flips his long legs around to skate backward so he can face me. "If you're tall and you can cut a good path through the crowd, people will follow you.

"This is like driving a car — you have to keep an eye out for potential accidents. You have to know when a novice skater might fall in front of you and cause a pileup."

Forty-year-old Joey Parilla says shuffling isn't what it used to be. He used to skate nearly every day of the week and even had a shuffling group with his older brother and cousins. They'd climb into a van and drive out to different rinks for variety. "It used to look so in uniform — it was four of us out there. It was so fluid. Oh, it was beautiful. I'm not being conceited, but everyone would stop and watch. Then we'd do a pike in the air. Ah, it was beautiful."

Joey has the muscular build of a gymnast, which makes it easier for me to visualize him and three other guys simultaneously leaping into midair leg splits, or pikes. Such performances grabbed the attention of the ladies and the ire of their boyfriends, Joey says. But over the past 20 years, little by little, Joey's crew dropped out. Only Joey kept visiting the rinks. Soon, he met, then married, a manager at Galaxy.

"It was the early '90s, and I didn't want to go out on the dating scene — the whole buying drinks and that spiel — so I met her here."

Joey and his wife are separated. She no longer works at Galaxy. So he's here solo, wishing he could convince his brother to skate again.

Anyone can learn how to shuffle, Joey says. Dancing in the center of the rink is where all the creativity lies. He steps into the oval, next to the guys break-dancing on wheels. He flashes a self-conscious, deep-dimpled smile. He leans his weight on one heel, then the other, then both. He hops in the air. He tap-dances Sammy Davis Jr.-style on skates. Next, he launches into a series of Saturday Night Fever-ish half splits.

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