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

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Local skaters started to volunteer memorabilia, from photos of historic rinks to glittery old costumes. As word spread to skaters elsewhere, the collection went national. Style skating memorabilia began arriving by mail almost daily.

Once a week or so, Klusmann brings a box or two to Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. Items from the archive were recently displayed at the California African American Museum. The archive is also featured in the 2006 National Geographic book “Legacy: Treasures of Black History.”

Klusmann has recorded more than 100 interviews with style skaters—all on her own time, at her own expense. She has become accustomed to raised eyebrows and dismissive glances when she talks about the project, especially at black-history events.

“People don’t think of it as being significant or relevant,” Klusmann says. “But when you point out that generations and generations of people are preserving a community that came out of segregation, that says something important about our country’s social history, people say, ‘Wow. Now I see it.’”

The importance of gathering such information is heightened by the fact that style-skating’s “elders,” who remember when skating represented an affirmation of their culture and community, aren’t going to be around forever. Honey Boy died of heart disease in 2006. At about every skate party, there seems to be a table memorializing another legendary skater’s passing.


“People talk about how oral history is big within the black community,” Klusmann says. “But when oral history is all you’ve got, and you’re not recording the memories, what happens when people pass is that you lose their first-person story. That’s what we’re trying to save.”

It’s about 3:30 a.m. when Big Willis and Jim receive their own “pioneers of style skating” award—and, of course, their first-place trophy from the dual-trick competition. Then they treat the crowd to another quick performance before taking off their skates and heading home.

The ride home on the Master Rollers bus is quiet. Some skaters sleep. Others, like Big Willis, sit quietly. Most will arrive home around 6 a.m., nap for a couple hours, then wake up and start their days. Tasha and Norbert will be up in time to make breakfast for Nyasha and their 15-year-old son, Norbert Jr., before church.

“When I was coming up, the rule was, if you slept all day and let something go after a skate party, you couldn’t go anymore,” Tasha says. “That’s still my rule today.”

Gigi Thomas, who arrives home in Lanham around 6:30 a.m., takes a shower, then rounds up her three kids, aged 5, 8, and 10, to head to her niece’s baptism in Woodbridge. “My sisters and my mom knew I went to a late skate the night before, and my nieces and nephews had a lot of fun knowing their 48-year-old aunt stayed out ’til 5 a.m., as if she was 18 again.”

Big Willis will spend most of Sunday working. But he’ll be on skates again by Thursday, when he and Lil’ Willis meet at Branch Avenue to skate with the third generation, Willis III, Lil’ Willis’ 15-year-old son. “It goes from generation to generation,” Big Willis says. “After I finish, my son will take over. After he finishes, his son will take it over.”

Willis III isn’t into competitions, formal or informal, and it’s unclear how far he’ll go in the sport. But for now, people say he’s the spitting image of his father and his grandfather on skates, fluid and smooth whether he’s making casual revolutions or dropping into a shoot-the-duck that would make his grandfather proud.

“I’ll be watching him when I can’t skate anymore,” Big Willis says. “But that will be a while.”

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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