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Passionate performers

Roller skating comes alive at Anacostia rink

(Published August 14, 2000)

By JOEL FURFARI

Staff Writer

On a rainy Sunday afternoon, the Anacostia Pavilion roller rink is a refuge for D.C. skaters.

One glides effortlessly around the rink, backwards, leg angled high in the air. Another duo of skaters practices a series of elegant ballroom-influenced maneuvers. One guy stops and goes into a ferocious centrifugal force-induced spin. Still others bop to the soul music blaring from the pavilionís speakers.

Skating is a passionate hobby for a group of performers called the Anacostia Rollers and Friends. Carolyn Wilkerson, a club member and roller skater for more than 20 years, described what keeps her going.

"Itís an addiction. I live for Wednesdays when I skate," she said. "Most women get their hair done before they go out. I get my hair done on the days I go out skating."

The Anacostia Rollers are putting on a series of roller dance parties called "Show on Skates" in Anacostia Parkís roller rink. The groupís next show, on Aug. 20, will feature skaters from the District and suburbs, as well as from Philadelphia, New Jersey, Baltimore and Richmond. Club members describe the shows as a roller skating version of the Ice Capades.

Betty Dodds, who helped found "Show on Skates" in the early 1980s, said roller skating is far from dead.

"Itís coming back at a fast rate of speed," she said. "The trend is coming back and people are coming to see what we do."

And itís a subculture that puts a premium on flamboyance. Wilkerson goes by the nickname "Dark and Lovely." Other skaters take names like "Shabba Hammer," "Bunnie," "Lady Bug," "Mohawk" and "The Magic Mover."

While many of the Rollersí older skaters remain active long after they put on their first pair of skates, they say many young people are interested in learning to perform skating routines. John "Bunnie" Butler, a 49-year-old skater, says he often sees kids go from not being able to stand up on skates, to being excellent skaters in an hour or two.

"Some of them just seem to have a natural ability. They amaze me," he said.

There are still many roller competitions around the country, and many of the Anacostia Rollers have won trophies on the competitive circuit. But what brings them together is the chance to creatively express themselves.

Larry Galloway, who skates under the name "Shabba Hammer," speaks passionately about his routine and what attracted him to skating shows. Like the others in the group, he said he has always had the personality of an entertainer.

"I was a natural dancer, so I transferred my talent to roller skating," he said.

Galloway is currently working on a routine for the upcoming show that he will perform to the theme song from the movie "Shaft." In it, he said he plans to make the transition from the old 1970s-style Shaft to the modern year-2000 Shaft. "I can change my skating style five times within one song," he said.

He also compared roller skating to acting on stage. The Shaft theme "makes the routine come to life," he said. "I become Shaft himself when I put on the costume."

According to members of the club, different skaters bring their own styles of performing to the shows. Frank Mobley, who is co-producer of "Show on Skates," said Gallowayís style is known for getting the audience worked up. "Heís a crowd pleaser," said Mobley, who has been performing in shows since 1982.

Still other skaters focus less on acrobatic routines than on elegance. Dodds said thatís how she describes Wilkerson, who has been skating for more than 20 years ó and she has the trophies to prove it.

While she says she enjoys competing against other skaters, her real passion is in entertaining audiences at the parkís pavilion.

"I like to perform for the public. Iíll be in my own world when Iím out there," she said. She is currently practicing a solo routine set to the tune of "Say That You Love Me" by Natalie Cole for the upcoming "Show on Skates."

Each summer, the Rollers sponsor four performances at the pavilion. While some shows such as the annual "Fun Day" show in July are open to any skaters wishing to perform their routine, the Aug. 20 show will feature only the areaís best skaters. Dodds said she expects around 25 performers to take to the rink.

Anacostia Parkís rink is an anomaly. Outdoor roller rinks are extremely uncommon, and the rinkís concrete skating surface is unusual as well. While the concrete feels smooth, the skaters say it is much less forgiving than the more-common wooden surfaces found in most rinks.

Butler said the Anacostia rink is an intimidating place for visiting skaters accustomed to indoor facilities. He said that while one fall on a wooden rink might result in some bruises, the same fall on the pavilionís concrete surface can break bones.

"There are some skaters who skate on wood who you couldnít pay to come out here," Butler said.

Wilkerson had advice for novice skaters. "You have to fall to learn how to skate. Most people are afraid to fall, but thatís how you learn," she said.

While no one likes to hit the ground in the middle of a skate routine, the clubís members ó ranging from the youngest toddler to the septegenarian "Honey Boy" ó are keeping a pastime alive in the District.

For the Anacostia Rollers, skating is an avenue for expression. They all professed their love of all kinds of music and a desire to give audiences what they want: entertainment.

"I let the music take me," said Galloway, "and Iím the kind of skater who doesnít care what kind of song is played. I just jump into the groove."

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator