In a viral clip set to Jennifer Lopez’s Jenny from the Block, rising TikTok star Ana Coto glides while lip-syncing down a sunny Los Angeles street so effortlessly you’d think she was floating.
After scrolling through her profile — where the young actress shimmies and skates to pop hits — you may be surprised to learn her first time lacing up roller skates was just three years ago.
Despite how easy she makes roller skating look, Coto still considers herself a newbie. She’s a newbie on TikTok, too. She joined the platform just three months ago in February and now has more than 1 million followers — a number growing by the thousands every day.
“They want what I seem to have,” she said in an interview with Digital Trends. “I just started sharing it because it made me happy, and people want to be happy, as it turns out.”
But her decision to pick up skating as a hobby didn’t come from a place of bliss. Three years ago she had just gone through a breakup and worked on a TV show that would never air.
“I had this real lull in my spirit and I didn’t feel connected to my body,” she said. “Skating came as an experiment to try and connect with myself again.”
It was a natural fit.
Coto had spent 15 years of her life “devoted” to ballet, and the performative dance aspect of roller skating just clicked with her. And although it started as a hobby, Coto said she spent an entire year on skates, never walking, and soon became obsessed.
“I think the reason why I like it is because it has a meditative element to it,” she said. “The first year I was pretty much anti-social unless I was at the rink.”
Coto — who is of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent –also felt connected to the history roller skating has in the Civil Rights Movement (protestors fought for desegregated rinks), and in Old Hollywood (Charlie Chaplin was an avid skater). She didn’t grow up skating, but she distinctly remembers her eighth birthday party at a roller rink where she spent the entire time crying in the bathroom because she couldn’t stop falling.
Fast forward 18 years and Coto is effectively TikTok’s queen of the rink — each clip of her twirling to the light of a disco ball, or doing the “diva walk” down the sidewalk, garners millions of views, as well as oohs and awes from her followers.
She posted at first in February as a joke, she said, but said she stayed because she didn’t see herself, or her hobbies, represented on the app.
Before coronavirus closed all the skating rinks indefinitely, Coto had a three-year backlog of videos of her skating with friends. TikTok soon became the premier place for her to display her love for the hobby and share tips on how to do moves like “The Downtown” and “The Book” all to the tune of today’s most popular hits.
Watching Coto’s videos is a stark contrast to TikTok’s more typical point-and-shoot formula. What makes Coto’s TikTok presence so intoxicating is in part thanks to the way her videos are filmed. She doesn’t use a tripod. Her boyfriend, Jesse Balmer, who she met at a skating rink, skates alongside her, following her every move, making her look like she’s flying across the concrete.
“If you’re too concerned about what is cool on the app, then you can’t make something that’s actually cool,” she said.
im literally in love with ana coto (roller skating tik tok girl) here’s her dancing to angel olsen pic.twitter.com/DRMFgcjtD0
— scarlet (@bellahashish) May 9, 2020
The views and the follows came almost immediately, then all at once. Thousands. Hundreds of thousands. Millions. Then came the messages. Thousands of followers from around the world have written to Coto to tell her that they just bought a pair of skates because of her videos.
“I’m so emotional watching people learning how to skate, the videos that they send me tear me up, I’m moved,” she said.
While roller-skating culture has percolated on TikTok for months, interest in roller skating has peaked since shelter-at-home orders were placed, and finding skates right now is an impossible quest. It seems ironic: Thousands of people picking up skating during self-isolation? Coto says it makes sense.
“You can go outside and skate, you can do it in your house, you can do it in your front yard, you can do it in your driveway, you can do it up and down the sidewalk,” said Coto. “I think that that’s what is appealing about skating right now. You can do this and still social distance.”
Going viral for her skating videos was not what Coto expected. Yet, she is delighted to be part of a “skating revival.” She hopes to see skating rinks survive the COVID-19 pandemic, despite many already being on the brink of closure prior to it. But more importantly, she hopes more people pick up skating, inspired by her TikTok or not, and to not hide in the bathroom when you land on your butt.
“You’re gonna deal with the inevitable falls. But then you get back up, be prepared for them, wear protection, wear a helmet,” she said. “All you need with roller skating is healthy knees, some skates, and some music.”
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