Skate or die 

Missoula Rhythm Rollers launch skate club

On a Wednesday evening, soul music blares from a small boombox as a handful of families spin around the linoleum floor of The Hive community center at 800 S. Third St. W. Hesitant newbies hold onto friends, while more experienced skaters zip past, weaving through the pillars. Two boys play at a Ping-Pong table that serves as the "arcade." It's the second edition of the disco-themed Missoula Rhythm Rollers Skate Club.

The skate club has only been running since Nov. 4, but its founders hope the weekly gatherings will help launch a community effort to establish a dedicated roller skating rink.

"There's kids here who've never skated before, and they can already skate," says cofounder Kari Neal, an energetic woman who can be found gracefully twirling around the floor on skates when she's not running the cash register. "This is so great. It's really been a long time coming."

Neal says she's loved skating since she was a hyperactive kid growing up in California. As an adult, she moved to Missoula and joined the Hellgate Rollergirls in 2012, where she rediscovered her favorite pastime.

"I can't believe I had forgotten," she says. "I knew I had to skateā€”I want to 'skate or die,' skate until the very end."

After her father and grandfather passed away in the same year, she says it was the impetus for her to realize what she wanted to do with her life: be a skate rink operator.

click to enlarge The Missoula Rhythm Rollers Skate Club is hosting regular sessions at The Hive in hopes of stoking enthusiasm for a community roller skating rink. - PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • The Missoula Rhythm Rollers Skate Club is hosting regular sessions at The Hive in hopes of stoking enthusiasm for a community roller skating rink.

In the past few years, Neal's collected about 200 pairs of vintage roller skates, scouring thrift shops and used gear stores. ("Have skates and they will come" is her motto.) While working her day job as a nanny, she's also been hunting around Missoula, looking for an indoor space that could be turned into a roller skating venue. Most commercial rinks run 20,000-30,000 square feet, or about the size of a small grocery store, and Neal has a limited budget.

"It was really frustrating," she says. "But not enough to not do it. It was like, 'No, I'm gonna keep going.'"

This summer, mutual friends connected her with Melissa Thompson, who'd also been looking to set up a roller rink after she bought skates for her 8-year-old daughter.

"We got so excited, but we realized Missoula doesn't have a skating rink, so we needed somewhere to skate," Thompson says. "So we started looking for places, and it's really hard to find a space that's big enough for people to move and you don't mess up the floor."

Soon after teaming up, Thompson and Neal found The Hive, which rents out its multipurpose room to everything from the Missoula Winter Public Market to interactive art installations. Thompson says it's not a long-term solution, but it works for now. (A website is forthcoming, and skate times can be found at the Missoula Rhythm Rollers Facebook page.)

In coming months, they hope to expand the Rhythm Rollers' hours and put on themed dance parties, like the upcoming holiday series of "Eight Crazy Nights" in December. They also plan to host skate-making workshops and eventually launch a Kickstarter to help fund a bigger rink.

"Everyone needs to have the opportunity to move, develop new muscles, gain confidence and dance," Neal says. "Self-expression is vital for development. Skating can do that, and I hope to bring that to more people here in Missoula and our surrounding towns."

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