Kristen Stein / Special to the Sun
Saturday, Oct. 24, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
Hip-hop beats blared from a stereo as Le Var Maxwell stared at his reflection in a mirror at his in-house studio.
The metal plates on his striped roller skates clanked against the wood floor while he walked through the steps of a routine in his head. At the exact count, he began to react to each musical beat with an arm movement and foot shuffle.
His feet slid smoothly across the floor, and he spun around in circles on his toes.
When he stopped spinning, he looked to the other members of his group and said, “Let’s loosen up and freestyle a little bit.”
Maxwell is the creator of Vegas Heat, a jam skating group that competes locally and nationally.
Jam skating is a sport that involves break dancing, roller skating and modern dance moves. Its popularity peaked in the disco era and has been referred to as crazy legging, shuffle skating and roller disco.
But for Maxwell, it’s more than a sport. It’s an opportunity to reach out to troubled young people and offer them a positive alternative to life on the streets.
“You have to keep your grades up and there’s no drug or alcohol use,” Maxwell said. “I don’t do that stuff because it brings negativity into your life.”
Growing up in Las Vegas, Maxwell said, he spent most of his childhood skating at local rinks and in Venice Beach, Calif., when visiting his sister. He said skating in Venice Beach taught him different styles of jam skating.
“Most people in Venice Beach didn’t break dance,” Maxwell said.
He said he combined hip-hop, skating and break dancing after watching the television show “Electric Boogaloo” with his God brothers.
“They would have their stereo on their shoulder and linoleum on the concrete to break dance,” Maxwell said. “I would watch them and say, ‘Hey, I can do that on skates,’” Maxwell said.
As the years passed, Maxwell said, skating never got old to him. He said he could skate every day.
“I asked myself what I can do to make sure the youth is safe, because they’re our future,” Maxwell said. “I started Vegas Heat because I know if they’re with me, they’ll go home safe.”
Vegas Heat has five core members, but Maxwell said the number of regular members increased significantly after the crew performed on television shows like “America’s Got Talent,” MTV’s “Say What Karaoke” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
The group was going to audition for “America’s Best Dance Crew” but couldn’t because of the 18 age requirement, Maxwell said.
Regardless, Vegas Heat has skated with “America’s Best Dance Crew” jam skating contestants Breaksk8 and even exchanged moves with them, he said.
Maxwell said the jam skating world is connected and values friendships among the teams. He refers to his own team as his family because its members have all been there for each other through hard times, he said.
Member Khrystal Scheels, 16, said joining Vegas Heat has helped her focus on something positive and productive after her mother’s death five years ago.
“After my mom died, a friend brought me to the skating rink to try and take my mind off of it,” she said. “I met one girl who was already in Vegas Heat and we started making up routines. Le Var saw me and asked me to come perform with them.”
Scheels is the choreographer for the group and said she loves to dance, but it’s not so easy to do on skates.
“When people see us jam skating they don’t know what to think,” Scheels said. “They’ve never seen anything like it before.”
Kristen Stein, 16, also joined Vegas Heat through a local skating rink. Stein said she knew Scheels from school and was interested in learning how to jam skate. About two years in, Stein said, she focused more on the break dancing aspect of the sport.
“I enjoy break dancing because it’s fast motion on your feet,” Stein said.
Singing along to Xscape’s song “What’s Up,” Stein demonstrated her break dancing skills by rotating her skates around her hands and posing on her head.
The team suffered a tragedy in March 2008 when 20-year-old member Timothy Morin died in a motorcycle crash.
Morin’s father, Steve, said he always liked to see his son perform with Vegas Heat.
“He started in Vegas Heat when he was eight or nine,” he said. “He was the only one that did it on roller blades. I don’t know how he did it, but he did.”
Despite its setbacks, Vegas Heat have always persevered. The group practices and performs at the Crystal Palace skating rink off Boulder Highway.
The team just won first places at the World Skating Association championships in Lewisville, Texas, in July.
The group has gained so much national recognition that it has clothing and skate sponsors and its own energy drink.
But Maxwell said his first priority will always be to teach young people how to skate.
“Not a lot of people in the world know about jam skating,” Maxwell said. “I feel like if I don’t teach it, the sport is going to die down. So I have to teach it to keep it alive.”