There are many cure-alls people can choose to lift their spirits when life has got them down. One of them can be found on wheels, every Thursday, in the late afternoon / evening, at Irvine’s Great Park. It is there, just off of parking lot three, next to the soccer stadium, that a gathering of around 30-40 people can be observed roller skating, learning beginning and advanced moves, making new friends, and forgetting their woes.

This is only one branch of a newish skate community that has coalesced since Covid-19 first began doing a number on the world. This OC skate community originated when Shesha and Nikki Marvin had to shutter their Irvine-based dance studio, ATOMIC Ballroom, due to the pandemic. Irvine Weekly recently spoke with Shesha Marvin about the skate community that he and Nikki, his partner / ex-wife, started spinning as a means to help them thrive while their dance studio was closed.

Cassidy Gutierrez (Photo by Scott Feinblatt)

“Nikki and I opened ATOMIC Ballroom in 2008,” Marvin explained. “Then, during the pandemic, it was closed. So we used some of our private lesson rooms to open [Atomic Skate Exchange], a roller skate shop, which we just closed. We did it for like a year and a half, and it kind of ran its course. Now it’s back being a dance studio again.”

From that skate shop, a community blossomed – one that gradually found its way back to Irvine. “When we opened the skate shop, I started hosting meetups, especially in Newport Beach. And then, we kind of got kicked outta Newport Beach cuz we were too awesome, but the Great Park welcomed us in Irvine, which was really nice, and they’ve been supportive of us being there.”

Shesha is one of three administrators of the Facebook group Roller Skate OC. The group is a component of the community that he has helped to forge, and it currently has 1.2K members. As his history was centered in ballroom dancing, we asked him how he was able to cultivate such a thriving community.

“Starting back with ATOMIC Ballroom, Nikki and I are both professional swing dancers, and part of what my life’s work has been since I was 20 was throwing dance events, like swing dances,” he explained. “So I’ve been a community builder and like bringing people together, and basically the skate shop allowed us to transition that skillset into doing that for the skate community. So, instinctually, when we opened the shop, I knew I needed to make a meetup so that I could start bringing people into our warm embrace, and it promoted the skate shop and just built community. We’ve transitioned that community to other meetups and also to have our own rink night, where there’s 150 people there, minimum, every Wednesday. It’s [at Fountain Valley Skating Center].”

MaryAnne Wendt and Shesha Marvin (Photo by Scott Feinblatt)

But why roller skating? “I started roller skating, maybe five years ago, just because I got skates as a Christmas present…Nikki was the one who got me into skating; she’s loved skating for years. And she grew up as a rink rat, we call it. And so we decided, ‘Well, let’s open a skate shop cuz that’s kind of like the next thing we’re passionate about.’ From that choice, the other kind of social stuff cascaded so that we have a skate community, and we kind of go by various names. There’s Atomic Skate Exchange, which is the shop, which is now, you know, maybe defunct, but ATOMIC ballroom has roller skate classes that came from that. So the teacher that we used as part of that experience is now kind of permanently installed at ATOMIC ballroom to teach skate classes.”

Given that there have been roller skating communities around for a long time, we asked about how Marvin went about tapping into them to form the OC skating community events. First, he explained that there are sub-communities. “There’s the roller derby skaters; there’s also people who skate in the rink; and there’s something called ‘adult skate,’ which is for adults only, and it’s in the evening.” He elaborated, “It starts at eight o’clock, and it goes till midnight kind of thing; these adult skates happen all over the country, even the world. And it’s a whole giant skate community of people who have been skating their whole lives. There are people who were skating there since [they were] kids, and they’re 80 and skating at the rink. They feel part of this roller skate community, and they’ll go out four times a week just to go roller skate. And that’s their physical activity, their emotional activity, their skill-building – essentially they’re going dancing. And that’s why it matched so much with what we were doing at ATOMIC, because we have that: people go swing dancing and that’s their identity; people go salsa dancing, and that’s their identity. And, eventually, you don’t know anybody who doesn’t skate; [just like] eventually, you don’t know anybody who doesn’t dance.”

Tiffany Duncan (Photo by Scott Feinblatt)

He went on to describe just how powerful an impact skating has had on the lives of the people he has met within the skating community. “I can’t even express how many stories there are in our community of people who [say] roller skating literally saved their life. It took them from the most horrible place and gave them something positive to feel. It gave them motivation in life. You know, they choose roller skating instead of anxiety medication, and it’s real. Almost every skater in our community has this kind of story in some way. Roller skating really matters to people’s lives. It’s not just a hobby.”

So, if any skaters, new or veteran, want to meet up with these folks at the Great Park, Marvin explained what goes down there. Every Thursday, Marvin and his fellow Roller Skate OC administrator MaryAnne [Wendt] show up with a leaf blower or broom to clear the path; they hook up some Bluetooth speakers; they bump some music, and then: “What happens is people come up and we welcome them. We talk to them; we know their names; we hug them, and then we practice roller skating together. Strangers will show up too. And our job as community builders is to open our arms to them and make them feel welcome, so they’re not on the outskirts. They’re welcome to come right in the middle. And I’m always like, ‘What are you working on?’ And I give them tips and kinda get them involved and hopefully [make them] feel really welcome. And then later, a lot of more experienced skaters will show up, and we all kind of coalesce: total new skaters, intermediate skaters, and advanced skaters, all hanging out together on Thursdays and making cool videos for our online community.”

Shesha Marvin (Photo by Scott Feinblatt)

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