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

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These days, he’s liable to face off against younger competitors like Paul, who never had the chance to skate at places like Kalorama.

Kids who grew up skating in the smaller rinks “skate differently,” Klusmann says. “They don’t stretch out the same way, or have the same flow.”

At 2:30 a.m., organizers clear the floor for the competition.

The couples, women’s, and men’s categories take the floor first, zooming around the outside of the rink, moving to the beat as they drop to their knees, kick one leg back and forth in mid-air, or twirl 360 degrees on a dime. Big Willis and Big Jim watch from the rail until their category is called to the floor.

When Willis and Jim start their routine, there’s little but their gray hair to set them apart from the three other pairs they’re competing against, all of whom start by circling the rink with smooth, gliding foot strokes. Big Willis recognizes all his competitors, including Thomas Paul and his skate partner Mark Banks, from low-key skate nights in the area. All of his competitors are from Baltimore, and most of them are young enough to be his grandsons.


Willis leads the way in a two-person train, his skates and Jim’s moving as a single unit, their hands remaining linked as Willis starts adding kicks, dips, and turns.

Their younger competitors follow suit, putting their own accents on the twists and twirls. At one point, Paul and Banks, both dressed in M.A.D. Unity’s black pants and white shirts, roll off the exit ramp and into the wildly applauding crowd, performing a couple quick spins and jumps before gliding back onto the floor.

Suddenly, while leading Jim around the rink, Willis lifts one leg straight in front of him and bends the other, a move called “shoot the duck” that looks like a deep single-leg squat.

The crowd hasn’t even finished applauding when Jim reaches through his legs and pulls Willis through. The cheers are still wild, barely drowned out by the thump of the bass in the jazzy, instrumental song they’re skating to, when Willis and Jim separate and head to opposite sides of the rink.

“They’re setting something up,” Tasha says, arms crossed and eyes squinted as she watches for their next move.

Jim waits in the center while Willis starts skating toward him. Willis barely slows down as he squats down low, then skates directly through Jim’s legs, a move that makes it hard to remember there’s anyone else in the rink at all.

“These children weren’t even thought about when Willis started laying down these moves,” Tasha says, clapping loudly in approval.

To finish, he drops into a split, one leg sliding forward and the other backward, as the crowd squeals and cheers.

Before trophies are awarded, the competition’s organizers present another set of awards, to honor the “pioneers of style skating”—part of a larger effort to honor and preserve the sport’s legacy and history before those who lived it are gone. One award goes to the Wheels of Fortune, and is accepted by Norbert and Tasha Klusmann, the unlikely savior of D.C. style-skating history.

Klusmann is tall and thin, with big brown eyes and smooth, cappuccino-colored skin that makes her look younger than her 43 years. Warm and chatty, she speaks with the precision of a professional historian. She isn’t, though she’s spent a decade doing something pretty close. Back in 2000, Klusmann was researching a documentary meant to illustrate the need for a public skating rink in the District. As part of her research, she interviewed legendary D.C. skater Howard “Honey Boy” Williams.

Williams talked about his early skate memories—standing outside Riverside Stadium, an arena that stood where the Kennedy Center does now, in the 1940s, wishing he could join the white skaters heading inside. It made Klusmann realize that “this is not just recreation,” she says. “This is our history. When you live something, you’re not conscious of the meaning behind it. We were missing the whole boat.”

African-American cultural history has received its share of scholarly attention, but Klusmann found that major research centers such as Howard University didn’t have a record of the community that has defined her life. So Klusmann, who works full-time for D.C.’s Department on Disability Services, and had no experience as an archivist, offered to create one. “When Honey Boy told me that story, it made me realize that our story needs to be captured, and there wasn’t anyone else to capture it,” says Klusmann. “Who better to step up than me?”

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

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