Every Wednesday night, Margie Barmann unlocks the doors of a plain-looking building just off busy U.S. 1 in North Laurel, and gets ready for the crowd of regulars to show their high-speed elegance.
It's the Laurel Skating Center, a cavernous roller rink that also happens to be a center for an uncommon and beautiful sport called roller dancing.
Roller dancing - ballroom dancing on wheels - is a wonder to behold. The dancers waltz, foxtrot and tango, weaving across the hardwood floor at a smoothly urgent pace.
Dancing on wheels and making it look beautiful is not an inconsiderable athletic challenge, but the skaters at the Laurel center are up to it.
The rink will play host to the Southeastern Regional Roller Dancing Championships from June 18 to 22. The event will draw skaters from Maryland, North Carolina, Washington, Virginia and West Virginia.
Laurel's Wednesday night skaters - all of whom belong to the National Capital Dance and Figure Skating Club - will be contenders in that competition and in the roller dancing nationals to be held this year in Lincoln, Neb., home of USA Roller Sports, the national governing body of roller dancing. The National Capital club has won the most points in the Southeastern regional competition for 17 consecutive years.
When competing, men and women can either perform in pairs or as singles.
Club members Claude Shires, 64, of Jessup and Susie Matthason, 42, of Columbia placed third in the Esquire (over-35) Team Dance competition at the last regional contest in Greensboro, N.C. They placed third in the same event in a competition at the Laurel center last month.
Shires took first in Veterans (over-55) dance at that competition. Matthason said she chose Shires to be her partner because their personalities match, and they had the same work ethic.
"We have the same goals. We both want to win," she said.
The pair said their favorite dance is the pilgrim waltz because it is "livelier" than some others.
Dereyk Jones, a Washington schoolteacher, practices at the center with his partner, Marie DeLuca Hart, 47, of Charles County. Jones is the U.S. Esquire Solo Figures champion.
Jones and Hart won second place in Esquire dance at the regionals. Larry Cook, 45, of Beltsville and Baltimore resident Sue Brown, 39, who also practice at Laurel, took first.
Hart, whose parents were skaters, started roller skating, with custom skates, when she was 18 months old. She stopped skating for 27 years, then returned to the rink to help her father, Joe DeLuca, out of the depression he suffered after her mother, Neva DeLuca, died of lupus.
A family avocation
Roller dancing turned out to be the right therapy.
In May, Joe DeLuca married the former Mary Deitrich. The ceremony and reception were held in the middle of the Laurel Skating Center. Mary DeLuca said that half of the 258 guests were on skates. "This is my biggest family," Mary DeLuca said.
Another member of the DeLuca family who dances at Laurel is third-generation skater Tony DeLuca, 13. Tony, who is homeschooled, said he notices a lack of boys in the sport.
"They don't give it a chance. You have fun the whole entire time you're skating," said Tony, who hopes to become a chemical engineer. His dance partner is Erica Broach, 10, of Parkton.
Bargmann, who manages the rink, is a former world-class skater and the daughter of roller rink owners and coaches.
She no longer dances competitively. In 1983, the Laurel resident lost her dance partner after he married. "It devastated me," she said of no longer competing.
Now, apart from running the rink, Bargmann gives about 20 private dance lessons a week and makes about 25 to 40 roller dance costumes a year.
The outfits are similar to those worn by ice skaters. Women wear fancy leotards with short skirts attached while men just wear leotards. Most women wear their skating outfits to Laurel rink while only a few men do.
Traditional ballroom dance music provides the rhythmic foundation for roller dancing. The number of beats per minute helps skaters know which steps to use. The glide waltz has 108 beats per minute and skaters do a glide, step, glide, while mentally counting one-two-three, one-two-three, just like in ballroom dancing.
In other ways, roller dancing is similar to ice dancing. Roller skaters flex their wheels to make turns, similar to the way ice skaters use their blades. But because roller skates are heavier, dancing on roller skates is a little more challenging in that respect.
On a recent Wednesday, Phyllis Leins, who has taught roller dancing for 50 years, called out a dance like the casino tango, and a skater would demonstrate that dance. Then everyone joined in. The rink is open from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and each dance set begins on the hour, making a total of three sets.
Roller dancing clearly is not just about competition. Many travel to North Laurel for other reasons.
Rachel Hill, 11, who attends Hereford Middle School in Baltimore County, was one of the few children at the skating center on a recent Wednesday night.
Rachel can appreciate the ballroom music. "It gives young people a taste of what older people listened to," she said.
LaValle Linkins, 67, of Columbia has undergone toe-to-knee replacements on both legs. A week before he went in for each operation, he said, the doctor told him, "Skate as many times and as often as you can."
After both surgeries, skating proved to be the medicine that Linkins needed. He said he loves to move to the music.
"When I listen to the music while driving around in my car, I can feel the skates on my feet," he said. "Dancing on skates is just fantastic."