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Jam Skating

Back at the very beginning of the skating craze in the 1880’s, in Boston, MA, after Richard Brown and his children were denied access to a roller rink, rinks became the focus of multiple lawsuits calling for reparations for the denial of Black American’s public rights. In a city thought to be more progressive than the “backwards” South, eventually the push against racist refusals created legal footholds to protect Black Americans from racial discrimination in public places. Black Bostonians’ activism predated federal action against racial discrimination with the 1875 Civil Rights Act and continued after the law was overturned in 1883.

Toronto, Canada, also has a similar story. Lydia Taylor and her son Arthur, 12, purchased tickets to Granite Club rink and before they could join the crowd on the floor, were told by management that they were not welcome because they were black. Incensed by this injustice, Armistead Pride Taylor, Lydia’s husband, hurried to city hall and issued a civil claim for $50 in damages. The incident was taken to court and the Judge ordered the rink to reimburse the ticket cost, stating “In this country nobody has a right to subject anybody to indignities because of his colour. Be a man or woman coloured… he or she is entitled to respect and protection.”

The rinks on the West coast in California were also the places of racial injustice. One rink, Union Hall Rink, in San Francisco reserved the right to “refuse admittance to all not of a genteel appearance.” The White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant management could “regulate attendance based on social rank: a microcosm of American social and racial hierarchies,” which denied entrance to the formerly predominant Mexican population in the area, the broader Catholic community, Black, and Asian skaters.

In 1871, Union Hall removed the “genteel” stipulation and created a “select skating club,” which entailed a highly regulated membership vetting processing, making People of Color unable to skate in the rink most of the time.
After being refused entry to multiple “white” rinks, three black entrepreneurs—W.H. Blake, J.W. Wilson, and S. Walker opened Pavilion Rink. When given equal resources to white skaters, Black skaters quickly proved themselves adept on roller skates. Across the country, black-run roller rinks opened, providing safe spaces for Black skaters to avoid having to navigate white-dominated rinks.

Roller rinks, and the country at large, were rife with racial inequality throughout the 20th century. Black skaters were repeatedly thrown out, denied entrance, and publicly humiliated at white-owned rinks, showing that even with more legal protections, Black skaters were still at risk for discrimination. Sit-ins and protests became common place during the Civil Rights movement. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which was established in 1942, staged protests throughout the 40’s and 50’s to break down racial barriers. In 1949, a demonstration started outside White City Roller Rink in Chicago, after racial discrimination was repeatedly reported there.

Robust Black skating cultures emerged during the 20th century, with different skating styles being attributed to different cities and regions throughout the country. See the Disco exhibit for more information.

Although rinks are continuously closed due to economic hardship, Black skaters continue to fight for their skating community’s access to rinks and keep their skating cultures alive. Jam Skating’s disputed origins point to the Great Lakes region, New York, Florida, and California, with an exact location still unknown. The style has roots in traditional roller disco, breakdancing, artistic staking, gymnastics, and modern dance.

Jam Skating proliferated during Skate Nights and at major skate parties, like Soul Skate – these events allowed skaters to meet, trade moves, and perform. Jam skating truly pushes the boundaries of what is possible on skates.
Some other jam skating style include shuffle skating, rexing, trucking, footwork, b-boying, head spins, flares, jackhammers, crickets, halos, elbow spins, groundbreaking, floorwork, crazy legs, strutting, hexing, shadow skating, toe dancing, spot-skating, and tons more. Jam Skating is constantly changing and shift – allowing popular moves to change and develop over time.

Some Styles and Moves

Due to smaller roller rinks in urban like Detroit and New York City skaters must made do with limited space and tightly skating with partners in order to avoid running into one another. Spins and circles are also at the core of this style.

This type of skating is personal, backward skating. The leading partner straddles the back of the front partner like a backpack, wrapping their arms around their partner. Proximity between the two skaters has to do with athleticism and comfort level. Backpackin’ can also be done in trios. The leading skater directs the pair/trio around the crowded skate floors.

“JB” stands for James Brown – a style coming from Chicago. Not only is the style inspired by James Brown’s music, but also by his animated dance moves. JB-Style is funky and rhythmic and frequently requires an incredible amount of athleticism, by swinging your skates out while skating quickly, quick footwork, balancing, lunges, backwards skating, and many over moves.

Snapping gained popularity in Maryland, Delaware, and Washington D.C. It involves a pair of skaters – one skater maintains the other’s balance and strides and the other does moves – trusting their partner for stability.

Slow Walkers bounce with their hips and take rhythmic short strides. Slow walking is frequently done in lines and groups of skaters near the outer wall of a roller rink.

From Philadelphia, South Jersey, and Delaware, skaters skate backwards at high speeds, getting a push from scissor strides to keep them going. Fast Backwards can be done solo or in pairs/groups by linking arms together to maintain momentum.

At least three, frequently more, skaters string together creating a train or horizontal line of skaters. The skaters join together by intertwining their arms together, so the centrifugal force of their groups pushes them along as a unit, with skaters at either end of the line keeping the group going in the direction/style they desire.

A Nod to an original influencer: Bill Butler
In the 1980s’ Bill Butler, now recoganized as “The Godfather of Roller Disco,” created his iconic rapid-pace “Jammin” Style – which is based on basic moves and strides. Butler was from Detroit, MI. and skated at the Arcadia Rink. To learn the basic moves, they must be learned three times from each of the different positions – inside, outside, and mid. Butler’s iconic moves and styles inspired many of the popular moves and styles of today. Butler was the creative director for the film Roll Bounce and had control over all aspects of skating in the film.

National Museum of Roller Skating Audio Tour - Museum Proper
  1. The First Roller Skates
  2. Patented Roller Skates
  3. The Father of the Modern Roller Skating
  4. Rinking
  5. The "Newest" Craze
  6. The Disco Era
  7. Pop Culture! Skating in Lines: Roller Skating and Comics
  8. Pop Culture! Orchestras, Organs, & Disco: Music in the Rink
  9. Pop Culture! Movies: Roller Skating Across the Silver Screen
  10. Competition: The History of Hockey on Wheels
  11. Competition - Speed Skating
  12. Competition - Dance Skating
  13. Competition - Figure Skating
  14. Competition - Derby
  15. C. W. Lowe's Tent Rink
  16. When Skating Goes to War
  17. Skating for Others
  18. Roller Skating Car Hops
  19. Jam Skating
  20. Extravaganza on Wheels: The Skating Vanities
  21. Vaudeville