By Hollie Grace James-
It wasn’t until she was in her late 20’s that Mel Tayler discovered she had a passion for the world of roller skating. A happenstance stumble upon a derby match between Ottawa and Montreal at the now defunct Ottawa Exhibition is the moment when she “immediately fell in love with the sport.” Fast forward ten years and Mel has gone from a fast-paced, high-stress career in the tech industry to sole owner of her very own roller skating shop that caters to the entire Eastern region of Canada.
Tucked in behind MEC and Royal LePage at 379 Danforth Ave., Neon Skates is one of two retail locations (the other being in Montreal) dedicated to everything and anything roller-skating. The staff are full-time skate experts and dedicate their time to staying on top of the ever-changing world of roller skates. Most importantly, they unapologetically love skates, and have put together an amazing team and a “jambulance” that treks across the entire country.
Mel, who’s also known by her roller derby pseudonym, Dawn Cherry, emphasizes that “it’s an experience to roller skate.” With that in mind, she has spent countless hours developing a variety of classes catering to beginners and experts alike to be held right in the shop’s studio space. Starting in February, participants will be able to choose from eight different classes including: rollercize (an aerobic strength training class on skates that’s so fun you won’t realize how effective it is), roller dance (which incorporates various choreography), and intro to roller skating (where you’ll learn the basics like standing up, rolling, and stopping, as well as spend time developing the muscles that you’ll need to feel comfortable on skates).
According to Mel, roller-skating is making a serious comeback and thanks to grassroots organizations like Chicks in Bowls, there is growing support for all the skater girls out there. Mel also echoes the sentiment that roller derby is a greatly empowering sport for women. With fast-paced full physical contact, it’s all about two teams of five skaters competing to score points by overtaking each other on a flat track. With the occasional cut, bruise or broken bone, it’s totally badass and ensures expectations are left at the door, making it completely inclusive and accessible. Although Mel has historically played on Ottawa’s competitive team, firstly with Ottawa Roller Derby in 2009, she’s transitioned to the coaching side in addition to playing house league with the Ottawa Centre Block. And she strongly encourages anyone who’s interested to get involved. Neon Skates has also teamed up with the only other local roller skating-affiliated company, Quad Sessions, to plan a family roller skating event at Winterlude on Saturday February 9. Participants will be able to reserve a pair of retro rentals and skate the night away at the Aberdeen Pavilion.
From strategy and teamwork to body positivity and a sense of community and support, it’s clear that roller skating is much more than just a sport or hobby.
Whether you’re interested in discovering more about the sport of roller derby or just learning the basics, Mel encourages you to start by putting on a pair of skates. “It’s a lot easier than it looks,” she says.