Seriously, who doesn’t want to learn to dance on roller skates? Luckily for all you wannabe gliders, director Kate Hickey has put together this little number that follows some of the finest roller dancers in LA, where the sport began. Part archive footage, part talking head and present day footage, Roller Dreams lets us into this widely unknown world for a brief 80 minutes, focusing on a small group of dancers who are still seen today as legends in Venice Beach.
That’s not to say that this film is all fun and boogying. Contextualising the movement against the backdrop of LA’s history of racially motivated violence and rioting, Hickey competently weaves in the story of the undermining of black power in LA in the 20th century and how it still affects the area today, and how this pushed roller dancing – a predominantly black movement in its beginnings – underground through whitewashing in the media and an effective ban on the sport on Venice Beach.
The film does dip a little in energy come the second half. It is essentially in two parts; the beginning, when the dream was alive, and the present day, when we catch up with the legends of roller dancing and see how, for many of them, life didn’t turn out how they thought it might when they were young and invincible. There is a lot of focus on the main founder of the dance group, Mr Mad, who isn’t necessarily the most charismatic person to watch when he’s not on skates.
Roller Dreams has a less charismatic cast than, say, Paris is Burning (which it’s sure to get compared to), but it’s a heartfelt and confident directorial debut from Hickey. The love that spreads from person to person throughout the film makes for an effective story about something you might not have given a second thought to before.
DIRECTOR: Kate Hickey
SYNOPSIS: They were born to dance, but forgotten… until now. A humorous and poignant feature documentary about the short-lived but iconic Venice Beach roller skate dancing scene. It was 1979 and the best of the best gathered to dazzle onlookers with their grooves and moves. As the soulful brothers and sisters who drew the original crowds attempt to reunite for one final skate, they share their stories and heartaches.