For more than 30 years, the Anacostia Rollers and Friends have become as much a part of the community as the park they are named for. Led by former dance champion skater Betty Dodds, the group has performed across the city and is best known for presenting their summer series “Show on Skates.”
During three separate Sundays, the skaters have presented an afternoon-long event of entertainment that includes skating routines and tricks. But due to a change in how the National Park Service hopes to manage the events at the Anacostia Park Skating Pavilion, Dodds and her skaters may not be able to roll like they’re accustomed to.
The group’s first show was scheduled for Sunday, but it has been canceled.
The Rollers are being asked by the Park Service to reduce the length of their future shows. Normally, Dodds’ events are held from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., which includes a performance by the Rollers and a community skate with a disc jockey. Concerned that the events take too much time from other recreational skaters, the Park Service has asked Dodds to scale her use of the park to 1.5 hours.
“If you close it down for seven hours, and you’re coming with your child from Maryland, D.C. or Virginia as a visitor to come roller skate here, we don’t want to have our visitors turned away if they came for that reason,” says Alex Romero, superintendent of National Capital Parks-East, arguing that the open roller rink is one of the few in the District for visitors to use.
Initially, the service asked her to hold the shows between 7 p.m. and to 9 p.m. Sundays — after park hours — to allow visitors to have full use of the rink in the afternoons. But for that arrangement, the Park Service was going to charge Dodds $445 per show to cover the costs of security and maintenance, a cost that Dodds said she could not pay.
Dodds, who formalized the free skating events with the help of the Park Service in 1984, said she is frustrated with the agency’s plans. She said that for years the Park Service has welcomed her all-afternoon community days that neighborhood families have come to expect. The days usually include a chance for neighborhood residents to skate with the Rollers under the sounds of a dee-jay and then enjoy a performance by the professional skaters in the late afternoon.
“I don’t want them to tell me how to do the program,” said Dodds, 63. “This is something they asked me to do, to create better relations between the Park Service and the community. They can’t dictate how to do the show.”
Usually, several hundred people attend each show during the summer, she said. When asked if there was an alternative place to hold her events she said:“Where else is there to have it? The Anacostia Rollers were created at the pavilion.”
But Romero said that the Park Service wants a little more flexibility for the skating pavilion, which is on the banks of the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington.
The two sides are scheduled to meet Wednesday to finalize any compromise. Dodds said she is willing to do a show on July 29, which the Park Service said it was open to if the group and it can come to an agreement about the terms at the next meeting.
“We recognize that she’s been with us for 28 years.” Romero said.