Rollerskating Lives D.C.'s style skating scene may be graying, but it's still rolling.

Page 3 of 5

Tasha says 22-year-old Norbert, whose skate name is “Smooth,” was hanging in the center of the rink, “surveying his kingdom,” when some friends introduced her to him.

“He didn’t even look down his nose at me,” says Tasha, who was 12 at the time. Tasha was invited to join the Wheels of Fortune at 14. She spent her 16th birthday crying because she couldn’t perfect a lift with him.

Tasha and Norbert, now 53, eventually mastered the lift, in which he holds her above his head with one hand. They went on to perform it at events such as the 1984 and 1985 Cherry Blossom Parades, the opening of the Old Post Office Pavilion in 1983, and even as extras in Roll Bounce, the 2005 style-skating movie starring Bow Wow. They married when Tasha was 21 and Norbert was 31. And like the Eppses, they had their daughter skating almost as soon as she could walk, hoping to pass on the family legacy to a new generation.

Did it take? Their daughter Nyasha went off to college in California with a pair of skates with her. But Tasha says she’s not sure how often they get used. “It’s something she can put away for a few years and come back to whenever she needs it,” Tasha says.

Old-timers like Big Willis will tell you that today’s roller-skating palaces are hardly worth the name. These days, D.C. style skaters flock to Seabrook Skating Center in Lanham or the Temple Hills Skating Palace on Branch Avenue in Temple Hills, where Willis, Lynette and Lil’ Willis often skate on Thursday nights. Each has roughly a third the old rinks’ capacity. There are no rinks left in the District.


“They’re like little matchboxes,” Big Willis says.

“Imagine taking ballroom dancers out of the ballroom, and putting them on a little square stage,” says Norbert Klusmann. “There was a grandeur to those old rinks, and when they closed, that got lost.”

That history—the kind that’s lost to much of the world, as well as the part of it that has defined Klusmann’s life—is in fact the story of recent African-American history. Take all those distant cities the Master Rollers bus has cruised to over the years: There’s a different skate culture in each of them, one that springs from chunks of history that might be familiar to people who have no idea what a dual-trick competition is.

Roller skating has been around for more than a century, starting with affluent, white crowds waltzing on wheels to organ music at the first skating rinks, Tasha Klusmann says. Skating didn’t become commonplace in black communities until years later, when roller skates became widely affordable, and paved streets and sidewalks gave kids somewhere to use them, she says. But even then—Washington’s big rinks opened in the late 1940s—segregation forced black skaters to roll on the streets, in church basements, in party rooms and other non-traditional venues.

As it happened, this was about the same time records became widely available. So people skated to the sound of local R&B music—mostly local acts unique to each city. Those local acts created each city’s distinct style, which persist in black communities throughout the country today, long after rinks integrated, boomed, and finally began to disappear: Up-tempo club anthems gave New Yorkers their bent-knee, bouncy moves; Chicago’s J.B. style, known for its show-stopping tricks, got its name from the James Brown music that created it; D.C. favored the kind of slow jams played on the legendary Howard University Radio program, “The Quiet Storm,” which lent itself to the fast, smooth, and straight-up style the city’s skaters are still known for.

“Segregation forced creativity,” Tasha Klusmann says. “Style skating happened because of segregation, both in terms of venue and music.”

Kalorama integrated in 1957. Since it was one of the first rinks in the region to do so, it became a hotbed of black culture and community. “What integration really meant was that the whites left, and the blacks came in,” Tasha Klusmann says. “Kalorama was such a huge, fine facility that blacks from all over the East Coast came here to skate.”

Big Willis’ skating career began the same year Washington erupted into riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. He moved here shortly after the rioting, arriving in a city where anxiety still ruled. Against that backdrop, he says, Kalorama seemed like a sanctuary. “U Street was already tore up by the time I got here,” he says. “I didn’t know what to do about that. All I knew was to skate.”

Photos: Style Skating

Photos: Historical Style Skating

Our Readers Say

Hey guys...there's skating at Anacostia Park its a free outdoor rink, and during the summer a DJ, and the Anacostia Rollers skate there. Also there a skate show on the 26th of June...Be There
Thanks so much for this article. I moved here 30 years ago and never knew where to roller skate. It's great exercise to stay in shape for social ballroom dancing. See you soon!
Thank you for writing this article. It was well written and truly highlights their Love and Passion for roller skating.
skateboardings better
This story was well told. Roller Skating is one of the Best ways to RELAX. Once you get in that "ZONE" you can't stop. Ask a true Skater. 4hout-out to my Big Brother Wee aka Lil Willis Epps, Jr
Its nice that this story was told. I remember in the late 80's when radio station WYCB use to host its Monday Night Gospel Skate at Crystals known as Skate Palace now. Hello to the "Holy Rollers". Lets get together soon and SKATE. Peace
This story is great! It has brought back so many memories of growing up in the Washington Metro area. I use to skate at Kalorama Road in the 60's! I'm sure I was there with Mr. Willis and I think that it is wonderful that he still has not only the skill but the love for skating. I am the author of "we're in it for life" a book about growing up in the D.C. area; and my sequeal would not be complete without mentioning this great part of my life at Kalaram road skating rink!! Great story!!
This story features my father Willis and my Big Brother, Lil Willis. I am so proud to be an EPPS and be part of the Legacy of style skating. I may not be as good as the two of them, but my goal is to get there! Much love to my blood fam and skate fam! <3 Amy Epps, Master Roller's "First Daughter"
Proud to be a member of the Epps family. My dad is a living legend!
I loved, absolutely loved, reading about this piece of black history, our history. I skate every chance I get and I've seen all of the individuals mentioned in the article do their thing. I'm proud of each and every one of them, and just like them all, I will continue to skate until I can't skate anymore. In fact, if it takes me to skate with a walker, I will do my best to keep rollin'. (smile)
Darrow - the slide show is incredible. Some of those could be award winning. Awesome and good work!
What an awesome article! The pictures really capture the visions that really go through my mind.
This was one of the best articles you've ever run. Very well-done writing and pictures! I really enjoyed learning about this rich piece of African American history. Great job, the moves, the passion, the dedication and the TALENT all came through very well!
I read the above artical, there was an artical in the post in 2006
of a lady,who do skating show in Anacostia Park that I found better,
Congra! to Big Jim Allen on his tropies,who roll indoor with the
Master Rollers, but he will always be a Anacostia Roller to me.
Special Props to Big Jim, see you in the show in Anacostia Park
on June 26th.
This is a very good article on roller skating, I remember going to Kalorama to skate when I was a kid. Loved the organ playing on trios!
All I have to say there's isn't a skating ring like Kalorama. I use to hit the spot up like 3 to 4 nights a week. PEOPLE...... where is a good local spot to go to?
Nice reading, Its nice to remember those days in the 70's skating at Kalorama three to four days a week. The article could have named some of the original groups like the Viking Wheelers, the Supreme Wheelers or my favorite Rolling Thunder. Of course thats because I was one of them. I cant talk about those days and give the true experience you got at Kalorama from watching the trios or couples skating to the organ with Vance singing or from skating on them.
Great article, lil Willis I love you man. Keep skating bro. I may not do it like I used to, but I still get it in when I can,,,,JB
This is a terrific article!

This is Rick, l need Epps number, we rollerskat. Together, but i drive dump trucks,an he doesrepairs, my boss wants his service, , he was supposed. To gave me. His card Thursday, but left befor me. 202-367-5962 this is my number u can give it to him, tell. Him Rick that worked for Dockett, that skates with him

Leave a Comment

Note: HTML tags are not allowed in comments.
Comments Shown. Turn Comments Off.