"That's Detroit Style": An Interview With Angie McClendon

8 / 4 / 2022

The music at RollerCade coming from the other side of the wall from where I am sitting with Angie McClendon is so loud I can hardly hear her as we sit down for our interview. Angie is a facet of the Detroit roller skating scene and has been skating nearly all her life. Tonight she is in all white and smiling from ear to ear as we start our interview and she begins to tell me every aspect of the custom-made skates she is rolling on. The components of the roller skate and the brand names that she is telling me are completely foreign to me on this night and so I nod and say ‘oh cool!’, flexing my active listening skills while I strain my ears just to hear over the background noise.

I was told to speak with Angie if I wanted to learn about Detroit Style roller skating because she isn’t just someone who has been on wheels her whole life, she is a musician and an activist and has melded those two passions with her passion for roller skating. This unique perspective and her warm personality make her an easy red carpet concierge into the world of Detroit roller skating.

“I was five years old when I started skating. I’m 61 years old now and have been skating ever since I was a child. I didn’t know nothing about skating back then either. My cousins came to my mom and told her that they wanted to go skating and the only way she would say yes to them going out is if they took me with them. It’s much harder to get into trouble when you’ve got a five year old with you, ya know? The only reason my mom was ok with me going out to skate was because back then people skated in the basement of our church.

So, I go with them not knowing too much about what we were doing. My cousins attached these things to my shoes that turned my shoes into skates. I didn’t tell anyone but they were so tight and hurt my feet so bad, but I didn’t want them to say I couldn’t go so I kept my mouth shut. Once we got there, I didn’t even start skating right away. I just looked around amazed by what I saw. The way people were moving around the room and the things they were able to do on these skates to the music… I had never seen anything like it. This was back in 1966, ok? So it wasn’t like I could just hop on the computer or social media and see what everyone around the world was doing. So it felt like I was let into this whole new world.

From then on I was hooked. So I would take those apparatuses they had put on my feet everyday with my friends and we would go out into the streets and alleyways by my home and skate around until it was time for us to go in. Every day. This was before I moved to Michigan. Once I moved to Michigan things got even better because people were skating in gymnasiums and they had actual roller skating rinks. So moving to Flint really turned the volume up on my love for skating.”

As Angie paints the picture of what it was like to be young back then I can almost see her story play out in my mind. She was young, around 17 years old, at the perfect time for her to see and take part in the influence that roller skating and the music of Motown would have on Detroit and the world as whole.

As we talk, I yell questions at Angie from a foot away in order to be heard over the music. As I strain my ears to hear what she is telling me she remains comfortably unphased in her chair, a veteran of the rink and the volume at which the music is played when you are there. As I am yelling towards her the song ends and I continue yelling, making me look like a wackadoodle to anyone within earshot, because now I’m the guy in the back corner of the room yelling at a 60-year-old woman “... because of the power of the internet!”

Angie answers my question unphased, “The internet has changed a lot as far as how people skate and how people show off. It’s jumbled stuff up and allowed people to learn and grow off one another in a way we never could when I was young. Still though, St. Louis skates their own style. Chicago skates their own style. Detroit has a Detroit style of skating. Not even the internet is going to change that. We have our own moves. We have our own technique. We have our own brand. Things may bleed in and bleed out, but Detroit Style skating will always be Detroit’s. Period.

What I think has changed is the camaraderie between the states. We are all skaters and we all get to watch each other do our thing. We can see each other’s differences in the craft and still appreciate what they’ve got going on.

Even though Detroit Style is still the best,” I laugh and Angie smirks. “I’m telling you baby… it goes down out here. We do it with a lot of love out here in Detroit.”

So what is it about Detroit Style skating that’s the best?

“We’re always about the music. We’re always about that beat. It’s all about being synced and moving with a togetherness. Detroit Style is the most technical style and it’s derived from those artistic values of skating from the past. We took those artistic values of skating and put them right here…”

Angie starts snapping her fingers to the beat of the music.

“... we gave it Motown. Think about The Temptations. Think about The Four Tops. Think about the backup dancers and their synchronized moves and harmonies. We gave skating Motown and the rest is history.”

Outside of her love for skating Angie is a musician that has written songs like “Just Skate” and “Lace Up”, and has toured around performing her music in rinks across America. Tying her love for skating to other aspects of her life doesn’t stop with music. Angie will be visiting schools in West Africa soon to teach over 400 students from various schools how to skate. She does this because she sees skating as something that has improved her quality of life and she wants to help give that same opportunity to others.

“I’ll have one week with these kids in Africa. It’s going to be a lot to try and accomplish in a week but I think it’s worth it to try and sew the seeds of Detroit Style skating out there. The idea that one day you might go to Africa and be able to see that everyone out there is skating our style of skating is something that really excites me. Skating has done a lot for me and for my community. You know Flint’s been through a lot. We had no water. We had the crack epidemic in the ‘80s. It’s been a struggle just to have some good, clean fun out in Flint for a long time. People are depressed and because of that depression they are led towards substances and illegal activities. Having an outlet that gets you moving and gets you around others who want to find a way out of that depression is important.

These children in West Africa might be in a different kind of way, but no matter who you are you can always use an outlet. Skating was that for me and I think it can be that for anyone who embraces it. I am the oldest national champion in roller skating. I have skated all my life. I've given so much to skating and it gave me life back.”

As Angie tells me all this, she is bobbing her head and as she listens to me scream the rest of my questions at her she starts moving her hands and feet to the music as well. Moving to the beat of the music is ingrained in Angie as much as it is Detroit Style skating. Moving to the beat of her own drum and hoping others will follow is something that comes naturally to her.

Written By:

Kalvin Lazarte

Photography by:

Sam Sklar