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!
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.
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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!