Picture, if you will, squiggly multicolored lights and bodies pop 'n' locking in syncopation to the beat. Rows of dancers performing the same routines perfected in late-1970s schoolyards. Fashionable men and women, both young and old, making a steady groove in reverse look easy. Speed skaters forming invisible braids as they pump up and down, zigzagging on a polished oak floor. Disco throwbacks and breakers doing 360s and other seemingly impossible tricks smack dab in the middle of it all.
It's what you can expect to see at Soul Roll, a beautiful thing that happens every Sunday night from 9 p.m. to midnight at United Skates of America in Tampa.
WMNF-88.5 FM DJ Mike "the Doctor, a.k.a. D-O-C" Thompson, who hosts the Friday Night Soul Party from 7 to 9 p.m., started Soul Roll at the skating rink on Armenia Avenue three years ago. "There were no R&B skate nights in the state of Florida except in Miami," says D-O-C, so he made it his mission to start the first one in Central Florida. D-O-C is more of an MC than a DJ, providing smooth introductions to predominantly old-school tunes, such as Motown hits by Al Green and Marvin Gaye, the '70s funk of Parliament and Chaka Khan, and the '90s house tunes of Planet Rock.
Some of the patrons of Soul Roll are strikingly physically fit women and men in matching outfits and skates with lighted wheels glide by you as chains of buddies grab onto each other from behind in funkified snakes. Many regulars come from surprisingly faraway places to attend. "We've got people here each week from Jacksonville, Orlando and Fort Myers," said D-O-C.
The vibe is always congenial and laid back. No one knocks you out of the way or hassles you for skating slow. If you get in someone's way, you'll usually feel a gentle hand on your waist from a skater who's moving around you. If you go more than once, you'll begin to see familiar faces throughout the place.
Like the ever-outgoing Virginia Meeks, 34. The Temple Terrace gal captures the spirit of Soul Roll, smiling and laughing, and chatting with friends on and off the floor. "It's the best roll in town," she states emphatically.
You'll also see the tall, lean, skating machine that is Milton Green, a 51-year-old gent who has taught many of the skaters, and knows them from more than 10 years ago at the old Stardust rink in Northeast Tampa. He's like the godfather of Soul Roll. His daughter Sonia skates there regularly. And his protégé, United Skates of America guard Alfred Barnes, has donned a referee uniform for the past three years and won third place in the Florida Coca-Cola roller disco championship for his routine to "Synchronicity" by The Police.
Throughout the night MC D-O-C gives a shout-out to just about everyone he knows. He'll play some old Barry White tune and then something that's cool with today's kids, like "Beautiful" by Snoop Dogg or "In Da Club" by 50 Cent.
Don't let the fact you haven't skated in a long time keep you from Soul Roll. It's really like getting on a bike again. If you've gotten used to inline skating, you'll have to adjust to centering your balance more on your legs than your lower back. This writer was a little wobbly at first, but I found my groove.
Not hard to do at the bootylicious Soul Roll skate party.
Soul Roll happens from 9 p.m. to midnight every Sunday at United Skates of America, 5121 N. Armenia Ave., Tampa (813-876-5826). Roller skates are included in the $5 admission; inline skates cost an extra $3. Attendees are also permitted to bring their own skates.