When I lost access to my own physical capabilities as a professional artist, a result of focal dystonia, a neuromuscular disorder, roller skating provided a valuable creative outlet for me. I’m so very happy that all these years later, my worlds have collided and I have the opportunity to celebrate San Francisco’s 6th Avenue Skatin Place through a new roller skating mural in partnership with with David Miles Jr., the San Francisco Godfather of Skate and the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department.
With community input, we spent months working through design concepts and I believe I we’ve landed on a fun design that celebrates San Francisco roller skating and checks all the functional requirements for park installation, safety, and maintenance.
As a longtime skater at 6th Avenue, my first instinct about doing the mural project was that it was important to acknowledge that it is the people, the skaters, who truly bring all the color and great energy to the space. (Just look at this adorable lil girl!!!)
So as the artist, I didn’t want to mess with that or compete with it. But I also know that this space has had a number of incidents of being vandalized or otherwise not being treated with respect.
My hope in putting this mural on the center oval at Skatin’ place is to celebrate the legacy of San Francisco roller skaters past, present, and future, and that it also serves to claim this space for roller skaters, so when they all go home, their vibrant colors and lively spirits remain as a symbol to others to have some reverence for this space.
As of February, 2022 we have now received all the necessary local approvals and I look forward to sharing more progress as the mural is installed in the Spring/Summer of 2022!
As new, white skaters become more acquainted with roller skating on social media, they have and will gravitate towards skating communities IRL, which is wonderful. However, once rinks eventually open back up they may find themselves at unique events not created for them the way they may be used to. So I’m reaching out to my fellow white skaters with a bit of a primer for entering these new spaces with curiosity and most importantly, respect.
Yes, skating is for everyone, but first, you must understand that “adult” black skating communities were created out of racist segregation carried out by anti-black policies on admissions, pricing, dress codes, music choices, etc. Black skaters had to create their own spaces and events as a place to cultivate their own communities for safety and enjoy their preferred skate style and music. I feel very connected to parts of black culture and I highly value and appreciate the black people that have created it so I’m very grateful to have been warmly embraced and welcomed as family in these communities. But over 10 years later, I also understand and respect that I am still a visitor here.
Before the pandemic, I would often see new white skaters find indoor adult skating events then make disparaging comments and attempt to dictate what kind of music should be played and where and how people should skate. They would also disregard the flow of traffic as they skate in their own preferred manner, completely oblivious to others. Other times, they would stop talented black skaters and insist that they become their teachers in the middle of a fast-paced, crowded rink. Many skaters are friendly and are often happy to teach, but they should not be treated as your personal concierge. I suspect this behavior comes as a result of the privilege of always being treated as the default customer, where all their particular tastes and needs are immediately catered to.
Black people often have to worry about and manage how they navigate public (or mostly white) spaces to avoid making white people uncomfortable or possibly turn confrontational. So both the subtle and blatant behavior of entitlement and disregard for the black skating environment by white skaters is truly mortifying to watch. Even so, black skate leaders remain welcoming and, to my knowledge, have not attempted to apply rules and limitations the way that white rink owners and skaters have unto them.
White skaters, please spend some time observing these events before charging out to the rinks and skate parties and acting the same as you might either outdoors with your friends or during a public family rink session. Your skills should be at a point where you can safely maintain pace and control with the other skaters. I’ll just say it outright – regional and national skate jams are not intended for beginner skaters. They are intentionally produced and marketed to more seasoned skaters so they can enjoy a relaxed, experienced atmosphere and not have to dodge beginners and kids all night.
Understand that you may be a minority and should conduct yourself with a bit of deference and honor for the existing customs and culture of these spaces. With this approach, you can actually learn, experience, and enjoy all that this incredible activity has to offer.
This blog post might feel a bit uncomfortable or controversial to some, so feel free to share any questions or comments about this topic in the comments below.
My friend Arlan Hamilton, once said, “Be yourself so that the people who are looking for you can find you.”
I think there’s probably no shortage of relevant quotes on this topic because of their inherent truth. To illustrate further, I’d like to share a personal story about roller skating.
“Skate Free or Die,” was the lifelong motto of Donn, a dear member of our San Francisco roller skating community. Sadly, as of 2016, he is no longer with us. Considering our ages and backgrounds, we became unlikely friends. Donn once shared this story with me about a time that he was recovering from a spinal injury. Perhaps enough time has passed that it would be ok to share with you now in his honor.
“One night, about 3 years ago … I showed up at Redwood City Skate. I was fresh off of a spinal injury that left me permanently without feeling in my left leg and foot. I could barely still roll – but I had not given up hope. I was struggling to skate that night … until I noticed you in the middle towards one end – doing your thing. And I thought – she’d never believe me if I told her I used to be able to skate (something) like that! But watching you made those ‘feelings’ come alive again – I could ‘feel’ what it felt like to skate that way … and wanted to do it again, no matter what. Quite the inspiration – you were certainly that night.
Look at me now – and all that I have regained since that night … and tell me: how does one repay that kind of debt? I owe you something that will be difficult to ever repay directly.
So … please forgive me for treating you like family – I consider you my Sister. And thank you for being you!”
Over next few years Donn attended more skate parties and put in more skate party miles than I ever have. You could always find him smiling and in the groove wherever there was skating.
In as much as I had inspired him, he had just given me this enormous gift that I will never forget. It’s one of the things that drives me to share my love of skating with others. Skating is a positive force, with the ability to create friendship, love and healing.
This #BlackHistoryMonth we’ll be taking a look at the African-American pioneers and champions of modern popular skating! These are the people that brought the style and the flavor to traditional roller skating, and made it COOL. As roller skate dancing regains popularity, it’s important to honor its cultural origins and to share these stories as they are often overlooked by the media. Here are a few notable names and faces as a starting point. (Full descriptions after the photo gallery.)
Bill “Jamma” Butler This is no ordinary skater. When people were rolling to organ music in the 40’s, Bill Butler is the man that brought the funk and jazz to skating in Detroit and then most famously in New York. His artistry, skill and style inspired many of the popular incarnations of roller skate dance that exist today.
Michael Johnson A protege of Bill Butler and a star in his own right. The late Michael Johnson is probably best known for being Bow Wow’s skate double in “Roll Bounce.” Spend some time on YouTube searching for some of his performances, you won’t be sorry.
Calvin Small – Chicago He is one of the original creators of the moves and style that would come to be known as the popular “JB Style”
Empire Roller Rink, Brooklyn, NewYork Famously known as the birthplace of “Roller Disco.” The pioneers of the region’s skate style would change the focus of the music from the melody, to the GROOVE. Dancing on skates would never be the same! Unfortunately, Empire closed it’s doors after 66 years in 2007 and the building now sits dormant as a storage facility.
Edna Davoll – East Coast Matriarch Edna Davoll caught the attention of the media after she went viral roller skating on her 81st birthday, but she has been a main staple of the East Coast skate community for decades. Known as the matriarch of the East Coast skate community, Edna started skating at 45 and is still rolling strong into her 80’s! She continues to inspire us all!
“Rockin” Richard Houston A world-renowned skater, retired postman and Air Force vet out of Detroit. He just released a book entitled “The Motown Sound on Wheels”, chronicling the pioneering skate community and his life in the rinks of Detroit and beyond. “Rockin” Richard Houston gave the Gong Show a taste of that #Detroit seasoning back in the 1970’s. Watch Richard dazzle the judges to unanimous perfect 10 scores!
David Miles Jr. – San Francisco’s Godfather of Roller Skating While rinks are closing down across America, San Francisco’s Godfather of Skate, David Miles Jr. finds new ways to bring skating to the people. Whether indoors or outdoors, D has worked tirelessly with local community leaders for 40 years to make sure skaters have a place to skate and a funky good time doing it!
Before the Church of 8 Wheels dominated the San Francisco weekend nightlife, David Miles was a force for skaters outdoors at Golden Gate Park, heading up the Skate Patrol to help others. He also stood up to local government when the community tried to push skaters out and tried to regulate their music, etc. He helped get smooth, recreational pavement installed and a safe, traffic-free environment for skaters. Although we have lost many of our rinks, San Francisco skaters can still enjoy a healthy lifestyle through roller skating thanks to the tireless advocacy work of David Miles Jr.
DJ “Big Bob” Clayton New York’s legendary skate DJ. Starting in 1980, Clayton would provide the groove for thousands of roller skaters at Empire until its closure in 2007. Clayton still DJ’s for adult skate jams across the country. One of the best to EVER do it.
Skateland U.S.A. Compton The roller rink that helped launched the careers of legendary R&B/Hip-Hop acts like N.W.A., Eric B and Rakim, Queen Latifah, and New Edition. Skateland USA Compton was a refuge for many young people as well as an important concert venue opportunity for hip-hop when other venues pushed it away.
Richard Humphrey “Rollerdance Man” Known as the “Father of Rollerdance.” Richard is a renowned instructor, performer and inventor, featured on TV and in print. Richard choreographed many of the classic line dance steps that are still popular today. He has wowed thousands of spectators in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park with his original skate crew, The Golden Rollers and even by himself still today!! He also partnered with Riedell to create the innovative “No Strings Attached” skate boot. He continues to teach weekly classes in San Francisco.
Joi Loftin “Joi’s Skate-a-Thon” If you’ve been roller skating for long, you know that the “Super Bowl” of annual skate parties is “Joi’s Skate-a-thon” in Atlanta, Georgia. Held annually since 1995, (with the exception of 2020, due to Co-vid19) Skate-a-thon is the place to be to see the best roller skaters from all over the world! I don’t know the entire origin story of this incredible and historic event, but Joi is included here as a skate legend because the work it takes to put this event on year after year is nothing short of super-heroic, and the experiences I’ve had there are priceless. Visit:www.joisk8athon.com
Explore the entire collection of roller skating themed designs at the Roll With Soul® Shop All designs available to customize on various styles and colors! (Make sure to join my Instagram page, to receive news on sales and discount codes!)
On occasion, Bandcamp.com hosts #BandcampFriday – a day where they will waive its revenue share so 100% of proceeds will go to independent artists, including our skate DJ’s who have been impacted by the cancellation of skate jams due to Corona virus.
Check out this short list of phenomenal DJs who have mix tapes available to keep you rolling!!
Very often new skaters take up skating because they were inspired by other skaters (which is great!), but get frustrated comparing themselves to someone who has been skating much longer. (not so great.)
This also applies when it comes to style – if you find that after significant practice you look and feel stiff doing a particular move, it may be that that move just doesn’t work for your body. (This is common in the professional dance world. What works for one performer may not look good on another.)
Side bar: Listen to this clip from world renowned choreographer Tina Landon discussing the challenges for choreographing for Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson at the same time.(14:35 minute mark)
For example, I wish I could dance like Janet Jackson or Gene Kelly, but I’m not made that way. I had to take the things I appreciated about those artists and find what works for my own body to create my own vibe and style.
I actually started roller skating after a neuromuscular disorder called focal dystonia severely limited the use of my hand and nearly ended my career as an artist. I also developed cervical spine issues because of the ways that my body had compensated over the years. I have to be mindful of my body so as to not inadvertently do more harm.
When I skate, I always hook a towel in my hand to hide my odd hand posture. After awhile, it became a prop when I dance – just a part of my unique style.
Who really wants to watch a bunch of people skating exactly the same and doing the same moves anyway? That’s kinda boring.
Allow yourself to be a beginner give yourself time to find YOUR style and what feels good to YOUR body.
Another skater may be waiting to be inspired by YOUR unique style and and build from that!
The recent rash of headlines touting the new “TikTok roller skating trend” reminded me a lot about why I started my website and social media pages back in 2014.
I was struck by how often media coverage on roller skating was centered around white women in some strange, exclusionary form of “girl power.” I had been an avid roller skater for nearly 5 years by then. Although I am white, I didn’t look like that, and neither did the people I skated with. My intention was to use my privilege to amplify those who weren’t being seen.
Many of these articles centered skating around white influencers and erased the African-American communities that have been nurturing and elevating this activity for decades.
On top of that, some were quick to capitalize; positioning themselves as the gatekeepers of some skating “revival.” Never turning down the spotlight, they could be seen taking credit for, and profiting from, dances and skills they took from the culture, but did not create.
Both types of passive and active whitewashing send the unfortunate message that black skaters and their beloved activity didn’t really matter until white people discovered it. It also prevents black talent from receiving any media recognition or compensation.
Despite black skaters’ apparent erasure from the press, they have had some of the most significant impact on our culture.
If it wasn’t for a black man, Bill Butler, we’d all likely still be skating to organ music at the local rink.
Since Co-vid19, many skaters are just now discovering quad skating outdoors. However, one of the countries’ longest-running advocates for outdoor roller skating is a black man, David Miles Jr. out of San Francisco, CA.
Even the film makers of the 2018 HBO documentary “United Skates” embarked on their original journey thinking that roller skating was dying off with the last of the original New York “roller disco” skaters. They soon learned that there was a whole vibrant movement of adult roller skating they’d never heard of. To their credit, they worked tirelessly with those skaters for over 5 years to get their story told on a bigger scale.
Prior to that, Tyrone Dixon released his independent documentary, “8 Wheels and some Soul Brotha Music” in 2004 to critical acclaim. Without these films, the media has virtually ignored black roller skating culture.
In an attempt to course correct, some authors have recently taken up the cause to remind people how the roots of modern skating stem from the civil rights movement. While skating does indeed bears roots in the struggle of racism, we must not overlook the positive and joyful contributions the black community has made to modern skating culture.
When the media continues to portray skaters as majority white, retro, eye candy, or conversely when black skaters are only represented by their racial trauma, they are missing out on the cutting edge of music, dance, fashion, style, etc.
This is a vibrant and important culture still fighting racist policies, continued gentrification, and historical erasure. Black skaters deserve to have their contributions acknowledged, respected and appreciated at the forefront of cultural conversations, not as a footnote.
Whether this COVID-19 health crisis has got you skating in your kitchen or you just need some weekend cleaning music, your friendly neighborhood dee-jay “White Chocolate” has got you covered for many moods!
Check out my assortment of skate tunes, or just fun throwback jams to keep you and your family dancing!