To avid skater Saletta Coleman, roller skating in D.C. is a “fractured” scene.
The District has lacked a cohesive roller-skating space for the last 30 years since two of its most popular skating sites shut down, and as roller rinks disappear while large-scale grocery stores with high-end housing pop up, room for this long-beloved hobby in D.C. remains dependent on the community that carves it out. So Coleman has taken it upon herself to turn venues like The Anthem at The Wharf into roller rinks to engage and cultivate the roller skating community in the city.
Coleman – the founder of GetYourSk8on, an organization that showcases skating events in several cities including D.C. and provides online resources to help skaters find and travel to events – said she plans skating events wherever she can find space in D.C. Whether at fashion events, galas, skate lessons or her Legends Heels, Hats and Wheels skate party at The Anthem last month, she has drawn skaters both regional and international to share in this common D.C. pastime.
“Anybody can roller skate, and that’s kind of what makes it so awesome,” Coleman said. “You gather with friends from around the country a few times a year, and it’s like a big family reunion. When you’re all together, you’re under a groove.”
Coleman said while the cost to build and operate a roller rink would be too much in D.C., the District offers “too many” suitable venues that can transform into a rink on nights and offer space when turnout is typically low.
“It’s an effort to get people in the District excited about the art of roller skating,” Coleman said. “People that loved roller skating needed online resources.”
Coleman was stunned to witness more than 2,000 adults coming together from across the nation to enjoy themselves skating late into the night while attending her first big skating event in Chicago in the mid-2000s. She said she began to experience catharsis while expressing herself through style skating – the act of freestyle skating while incorporating rhythm and elements of dance – what many skaters describe as “walking on water.”
The gathering helped her realize the untapped potential in organizing skaters, as no other skating-centric platform existed in the early age of the internet, so nearly 19 years ago she created GetYourSk8On, a website providing skaters with a calendar of events in D.C., a skating news source and videos of fellow skaters. Along with GetYourSk8on, just this last year she founded Lets SKATE DC, a program that offered free, outdoor skating at The Wharf last summer, which she plans to continue next year.
Despite the nostalgia-fueled rise in popularity of skating across social media platforms since the onset of the pandemic as American stores ran out of roller skates and coverage of the hobby made its way onto national headlines, Coleman said the skating community has always existed in D.C., but only recently entered the mainstream.
“It makes your skin crawl when people say ‘Do you see like a new wave?’” Coleman said. “Like no, it’s always been busy. It’s just a matter of different communities coming to it now.”
The history of roller skating in D.C. among the Black community goes back not only to the disco, rhinestone-sequin clad rollers of the 1970’s, but rather finds itself in tandem with the initial national rise of roller skating in the 1880’s. Coleman said Black Americans at the time found themselves unable to access public rinks due to racial segregation, and this fight for equal access to recreational space drove activism for racial justice into the the 20th century. Even after rinks integrated, this ongoing struggle for space existed throughout the history of roller skating in D.C., as the Black community faced rink closures throughout the latter part of the 20th century due to gentrification and subsequent urban redevelopment.
“When African Americans started roller skating or got into roller skating, they had to skate outside,” Coleman said. “So we’re used to being pushed outside.”
D.C. was previously home to some of the largest rinks in the nation, including the multi-purpose sports arena Riverside Stadium, which was demolished to make way for the Kennedy Center, which was built in 1964, and the National Arena in Adams Morgan that closed in 1984 and later transformed into a Harris Teeter grocery store and adjoined apartments in 2013.
Coleman said the predominantly Black community of local roller skaters refer to the DMV area as Snap City, a name adopted after the act of “snappin” – a one-footed skating move that involves the rapid transition of frontward motion to backward.
“It’s the linking up and supporting each other’s weight and that immediate pop and twist and turn that they do that’s unique to their style,” Coleman said.
Coleman isn’t holding her breath for an indoor skating rink to open in D.C., but she said the local skating community can continue to flourish at similar indoor spaces like empty concert venues, recreation centers and warehouses.
Invigorated by the same passion Coleman harnessed to organize skaters nearly two decades ago, skating aficionados Darren W. Jackson II and Pejay Camacho founded TheLinkUpDC early last year, which hosts pop-up skating events and skating lessons, showcasing style skaters from across the DMV.
Their Instagram account has since garnered more than 37,000 followers, and Camacho and Jackson credit much of their success to the talent of D.C. skaters showcased on the page. Jackson and Camacho take pride that Snap City is relatively small and feel protective of its identity and the love that surrounds it.
“Our main goal is not about us, because TheLinkUp is all of Snap City, all of the skaters in the DMV make up TheLinkUp.” Jackson said.
Among the many other aspects that make skating in Snap City distinct, Jackson said snappers anchor with a partner while skating, which forms a bond and comradery, a connection that goes deeper than just the physical form.
“Snap City is not just about the moves, it’s the music as well,” Camacho said. “The music choice, the cadence, the flow. It’s all about being in unison and in sync as you skate with somebody.”
Jackson and Camacho said after relocating to D.C. for their careers, the two quickly started going to the rinks almost every day early last year to skate in Snap City and connect with the community that composes it. For Jackson, style skating was a mental escape – as he finished up his time at Georgetown Medical School, he found that skating helped him recover from the burnout.
Camacho said TheLinkUp works to engage the DMV community outside the rink as well, donating clothing and food to the unhoused community and organizing school supply drives to support teachers in the DMV. Last July, TheLinkUp and the National Women’s Law Center collaborated to host a skating event that celebrated Black girls and femme presenting individuals.
The community support rekindled Camacho’s love for skating and restored feelings of home, acceptance and safety. For him and Jackson, skating is really just a byproduct of the welcoming community that is Snap City.
“No matter what you were going through before you got there, as soon as you hear that music, all the energy changes, all the smiles come out, that family vibe comes out and it’s like, I’m home,” Camacho said.
Amea Douglas, a skater who is featured on TheLinkUp’s Instagram page, said skating offers a form of escapism for her – a way to forget about the stress of the day and focus on your moves, the song and the people you’re with. Douglas said slow, old-school, R&B and soul jams, especially from the 80’s and 90’s, by artists like singer-songwriter Anita Baker are a major part of skating in Snap City, emanating a feeling that new school music just can’t satisfy.
She said she has been skating for 16 years in the DMV area, but thanks to social media, she has connected with a vast network of skaters from Atlanta to New York City.
“You start talking to them and then you just build that bond over time and it’s like, ‘Oh, we have a skate party out in D.C. you should come to it,’ and then they come and then you just keep the bond and the connection going from there,” she said.
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