February is Black History Month so we thought that a great way to kick start this month will be to share a little bit of the history behind roller skating, roller dance and showcase the Black skating community and their long history and contributions to this amazing community.
PS: A lot of the information here is USA-based but still has lots of great resources and teachings!
So for starters, you might be surprised to know that the first pair of rollerskates were actually inlines! The first skates that came out around the 1760s had a single line of wheels and it wasn’t until 1819 that the lovely skates we use and love at Rolla, quad skates, came to be (from The National Museum of Roller Skating).
From the creation of rollerskates, lots of roller rinks started to pop out. Here in Canada, the first recorded rinks popped up in Montreal and Toronto around the 1880s! And in Vancouver around 1907 the Imperial Roller Rink and in the ’40s and ’50s there were quite a few skate rinks: Skateland, Trianon Roller Rink, and the Centres Garden Roller Bowl, and around the 60’s the famous Stardust Roller Rink, and the amazing (and currently lovely house of Rolla) Rollerland!
Photo from the City of Vancouver Archives of the Rollerland Building around the 1960s.
However, within the rise of rollerskating it is also important to note and acknowledge the racist history in it. From the very start of roller skating rinks and roller disco Black folks were not allowed to participate and were continuously segregated all around the world. Even today with the rise in popularity of roller skating, calling it a comeback is wrong as it never went away and was kept alive by the Black Skating Community, as Carla, one of Rolla’s co-founders said in an interview with the Georgia Straight: “It’s become an important conversation in roller skating within the community—to not call roller skating as having a re-birth or a resurgence…Because that’s only the case for white folks.”
Check out this incredible video that the founder of the African American Roller Skate Museum created that walks you through the start of roller skating and its history with the Black Community. The Museum is a great resource and place to look up if you want to learn more about roller skating, it showcases and uplifts many Black skaters and it has a lot of resources and media to support the Black Community in the USA.
Roller dancing can be traced back to Bill Butler, a black skater around the 70’s. He started a lot of dance moves and strides on roller skates and became known as the Godfather of Roller Disco! You can read more about Dance Music and Roller Skating here!
If you want to read and learn more about the contributions and the importance of roller skating for BIPOC communities check out these two incredible articles (Teen Vogue & Refinery29) that share a lot of information from Black and Brown skaters. And go check out and follow some of these amazing skaters and clubs (@butterrollnyc / @the_good_guy91 / @ayyskates / @fumichun / @bonitravo ) You can also check out this video from an amazing skating community for Queer Black and POC folks based on NY, check their IG at @orbit.collective.
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Here are some local organizations and folks to support and donate to based in BC: ‘Give Back to Black BC‘ – The Black Arts Vancouver Society – Black Women Connect Vancouver – Afro Queer YVR – Van Black Library. Make sure you also give a follow and support the amazing Bad Bounce BI&POC Skaters who are located here in BC and who welcome and hold space for Black, Indigenous, and anti-racist skaters of color.
Here at Rolla, we are super lucky to work with some amazingly talented skaters and teachers from the Black Skate Community. Check out Freight Train aka Tinisha Bonaby’s Roller Dance Lessons that you can do at home on our Virtual Learning Platform.
Try it out for FREE for your first 7 days >> Roll At Home Classes