Black History is Skate History

Curated from my 2019 Instagram series – @WCrollerskate

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.

READ: The Roller Rink Origins of N.W.A. – New York Times, August, 2015

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

The Healing Power of Roller Skating

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.

Donn B. (RIP 2016) - Photo: Randy Wong

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. 

No one can skate like you.

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 mean…who wouldn’t want to skate like that?)

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.

Photo: Andre Cates/ Gliders Captured Moments

Who really wants to watch a bunch of people skating exactly the same and doing the same moves anyway? That’s kinda boring.

“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”

– Oscar Wilde

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! 

My Skate Life (in GIFs) Part 4 – Cat Edition!

1. Unloading the carpool at the late night skate jam

 

 

 

2. Watching the fast backwards skaters

 

 

 

3. That one reckless skater who never watches out for anybody

 

 

 

4. That one time you fell, but totally played it off…kinda

 

 

 

5. Trying to figure out if it’s your skates that stink

 

 

 

6. When you see a sweet move for the very first time

 

 

 

7. When someone comes up to the DJ Booth and requests “Funkytown”

 

 

 

8. Selfie Spin

 

 

 

9. Trying to walk after Skate-a-thon weekend

 

 

 

10. When the DJ got you in the zone

Required Reading for all Skaters

Some time last year, a brilliant article was published in Electronic Beats magazine.

“Sound in Motion” provides an in-depth look at the origins of style-skating and the music that provided the infinite loop which feeds the culture even to this day.

It’s divided into 4 chapters:

  • Style Skating, Civil Rights and the Evolution of Rink Music
  • New York City – Disco, Boogie and Beyond: Danny Krivit
  • Style skating and James Brown remix culture in Chicago: ShaProStyle
  • From the rink to the dancefloor: DJ Spinn & RP Boo

I hope this link never goes down, because this story is to pivotal to understanding the issues that created the skating culture, and the pioneers who paved the way.

It’s a long read, but it’s worth it. There’s also some great media bits included throughout.

Click the image to transfer to the article.

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 2.16.54 PMhttp://stories.electronicbeats.net/

Enjoy!!

GUEST DJ: Church of 8 Wheels – August 27, 28 & 29

WC_Co8W_August2015

In addition to being an Official Skate Instructor, I’m also your friendly neighborhood Roller Disco DJ.

I LOVE skate music, (Just look at those pants!) and I’ve been invited to play some music for YOU!

Here are the details for the sessions:

  • Thursday – LGBT Night (All Welcome) 7pm-10pm
  • Friday – Roller Disco – 7pm-11pm
  • Saturday – Roller Disco (+18 up only) – 7pm-11pm

$10 to enter, $5 skate rental

The Church of 8 Wheels – 554 Fillmore St. (At Fell) San Francisco, CA 94117

If you’re in the Bay Area, hope to see you there!

My Skate Life (in GIFs) Part 3

1. When people ask me about buying their own skates

2. Beginning skate students

3. Students after my hour lesson #swag 😉

4. How I think I look skating in a group

5. How I probably look skating in a group

6. That one dude who is always standing in the glide lane trying to show-off

7. When someone finally runs into him

8. Me skating when I first arrive at Golden Gate Park

8. Me skating at Golden Gate Park 5 hours later…

Skate Legend – Bill “Jamma” Butler

If you’ve ever seen these images pop up on the internet, please know that this is NO ordinary “ol skool” skater.

legends-of-skating-billbutler

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 skating that exist today.

As these forms of roller skating become popular in various parts of the country, it’s important to honor it’s cultural origins and the unsung pioneers that have given roller skating it’s flavor and style.

If you skate, get to know Bill Butler:

Watch Bill skate: