Can't Wait to Skate! Philly's Rollerskating Story

The Project:
I am India Bernardino, dancer, roller skater, educator, all-around hype-woman. I am making a documentary and performance project called Can’t Wait to Skate that celebrates the history of roller skating in Philadelphia, and I need your help to fund the last few steps in the process. My project is already underway, thanks to many volunteers in the skate community, as well as an Arts and Social Change grant from the Leeway Foundation. I plan to premiere the documentary videos within a live stage performance in March of 2022 right here in Philly. Funding will go to venue rental as well as towards working with an additional videographer from Philly’s dance scene. Over the years I have collected historical footage for the documentary. Currently, I am filming interviews with the OGs, as well as filming the new street styles popular in Philly. One of my mentors and skater, Terry Gilmore, a retired 6abc reporter, helped transfer VHS tapes to digital formats. With Terry, I am recording oral history interviews with several of Philly’s skate elders, to help tell the story of roller skating in Philly. I am excited to capture the skate scene that has been a staple for over 20 years at boathouse row, particularly with skater “Irvin Williams”. For most people, unless they stay late into the night at an adult skate session at a rink, you won’t see the kind of creativity Philly skaters have. Philly has a unique version of skating outdoors, an expression of black joy and freedom. I am also supported in organizing and presenting my research by Lily Kind, who is a student of Great on Skates, and has a background in production and dance history. The documentary and accompanying performance will help give our city’s style greater visibility in the skate world and beyond.

This project is a way for me, as a roller skater, to bridge the past and the present. This documentary and performance focuses on the history of three connected skate groups that came to prominence in the early 1980s: Wizard on Wheels, Rhythm on Wheels, and Wheels of Fire. My dad was a member of two of these groups, and other members remain my skate mentors. These crews achieved different kinds of recognition and success. They also navigated issues of race and blackness. As the generation of skaters that defined Philly’s style become our elders, I am excited to preserve and share more broadly the histories they have shared with me, that motivates this documentary and empowered me to found my skate school Great on Skates. We want to share it, be recognized, and see what else, or who else it will inspire. I know there will be some hot takes! I am excited to lend my voice and perspective to history as it is being written. I also want to create a project that will inspire other skaters, crews, and communities, to collect and share their own histories.

Why Now?
The up-tick in popularity in the general media of roller skating and roller dancing means new people are gaining interest in skating as a social, athletic, and artistic activity. However, in the black community, skating is often kept gated, because there’s a fear of it being repackaged and sold away from its creators and communities. The new, contemporary skating style becoming popular on the internet is smooth and slow. There’s a celebration and recognition of black cultural contributions in general pop culture awareness, but the current popular style of black skating is different from the older style. We want to share the rawness and the hard work of the previous generation of Philly’s style. Our documentary will show the former glory days and connect them to a new generation of skaters.

Philly Focused:
Teaching outside of Philly has made me more committed to Philly’s unique skating community and style. The Can’t Wait to Skate project grew out of my experience with Great on Skates, a community of rollerskate teachers and students that I organize. I started Great on Skates in 2017. The teaching program invites people from all walks of life into the world of roller skating and skate dancing. Since skating is a social dancing activity, the classes are a welcoming social event, building community between skaters. I organize a team of teachers, who come from skate culture, to work together to create ways of teaching skating that keeps students excited and growing their skills. Teaching has made me able to reach a different demographic of people while sharing skate education.

From our Philly homebase, we travel to other cities and communities predominantly black skate communities. In most cities, black owned rinks have fizzled out due to poverty, violence and being bought out. While traveling to different cities I've been asked to teach Philly style skating which is raw and hype.
I've been able to search for different ways for others to learn how to skate outside of the rink as well. I ask questions about their skate culture, and stories in reference to different cities and states. There are a lot of regional differences between styles and genres of skating in different cities. These differences and variety are a testament to the creativity and variety of the black communities that create them. We think this is beautiful and it inspires us to be better skaters here at home. Travelling is also a way for us to share and exchange not just our own style of skating, but how we teach skating. Philly’s style of skating is fast and risk-taking, and this comes from the older generation of Philly skaters. When we are skating you can tell we're from Philly. In different rinks they do something called roll calls in which different cities showcase their different skate styles. Skaters show off their different styles: Memphis has a style of splitting. Chicago has a style called “JB” (inspired by the James Brown movement). ATL style has ATL “stabbing and riding”. Baltimore is known for snapping. North Jersey “Partner skating”. Philly has" fast backwards." And now in Philly, we're incorporated “locking” on skates! As we like to say: If you ain’t sweatin’, you ain’t working!

Skating in my Family:
Skating has meant a lot to me personally, as a child I remember putting my skates on and skating in the street with my family. When my grandmother passed my 72 year old uncle said “Welp, it's time to go skating.” My Mother told me that our family has always gone skating when there was a passing in the family. On that day all of my family gathered together to skate at the rink on a family skate night. I was just blown away at the healing that took place when we were all together. Now that I am an adult I respect the way my family showed me true love and healing through going out to roller skate. I've realized the importance of how people of color (including myself) have always utilized the rink as a healing space. I hear and share different stories with other skaters about stressful days and weeks up until the time we enter the rink. While losing a loved one, I used the rink as my grieving space. While teaching I am able to share some of the roots of certain skate movements and its origin. I love this part of my life. It would mean a lot to me if you would support the documentary!

Thank you, India & the Cant Wait to Skate team

Donations (48)

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  • casey mansor
    • $20 
    • 2 yrs
  • Anonymous
    • $22 
    • 2 yrs
  • Irania Goldsmith
    • $100 
    • 2 yrs
  • Poppy King
    • $300 
    • 2 yrs
  • Anonymous
    • $7 
    • 2 yrs
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Fundraising team (2)

India Bernardino
Raised $20 from 1 donation
Clementon, NJ
India Bernardino
Team member
This team raised $2,622 from 47 other donations.

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