Roller Boogie Like James Brown at This Milwaukee Rink

Hit the rink like a Sex Machine on wheels.

During adults-only nights at Butler Skateland, there may be as many as 1,600 wheels on the floor. That’s four wheels on each foot of 200 skaters – we checked the math.

At fluctuating speeds with drastically varying styles, they roll in an endless counterclockwise oval. Sometimes couples stay connected in seemingly choreographed moves; others roll solo for three hours straight. Crews practice synchronized routines; others invent patterns with new friends on the spot.

With a DJ spinning hip-hop old and new and the occasional soul and funk, it’s a dance club on wheels. Dancing on roller skates is nothing new, but over the decades, different styles of roller dancing have emerged in various regions of the U.S. Milwaukee skaters exhibit a mashup of influences. Trained eyes will see elements of Ohio’s “Stride” style (with wide, flowing leg strokes) and Philadelphia’s “Fast Backwards” (which looks like it sounds) on Butler’s floor.

But J.B. Style, inspired by the moves of James Brown and cultivated in Chicago, is the most prevalent. “It’s a slower, more dancing, more stepping  style,” Eric Lee, a 52-year-old personal trainer and former teacher, says of J.B. style.

Saul Christian has been an avid skater for more than 50 years. His moves resemble J.B. – featuring a lot of smooth, crisscrossing steps – but Christian doesn’t intentionally model himself after anyone. “I skate my way. I skate like me.”

Although lessons are available, most people learn by observation. “I just watched everybody else’s style and put it with my style,” says Maino Davis, who skates competitively.

“People come here to get away and escape whatever their reality is,” Lee says. “From a drug dealer to a lawyer to a doctor, it doesn’t matter what you do on the outside. You can come in here and get your roll on. We’re an underground skating rink. It’s a lovely thing.”

Butler Skateland’s Adult Nights (men 25 or older, women 21 or older) start at 7 p.m. every Wednesday and Sunday. 

This Story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s 2020 Winter Playbook

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Adam is a journalist who recently returned to his Wisconsin home after graduating from Drake University in December 2017. He interned with MilMag in the summer of 2015 and has been a continual contributor ever since. Follow him on social media @Could_Be_Rogan