The first time I came across now-viral roller skater, Oumi Janta, she was seamlessly gliding down the pavement of a park in a pair of pastel pink rollerskates, headphones in, rolling into smooth twirls with her arms in the air. She looked like someone had bottled up bliss and put it all into one person, the joy radiating off of her like a warm light.
The video, which came from her Instagram account, was shared on Twitter by someone who simply and succinctly said, “I’m obsessed with her.” Less than ten seconds into the video, I, too, was obsessed with the Berlin-based, stylish, roller-skating icon.
On the first day of July, when I went to follow Janta’s Instagram account, she had a little over 200,000 followers. Two weeks later, that number has ballooned to nearly 600,000. Instagram users began making drawings and cross-stitchings of Janta, and shared videos of themselves in their skates incorporating Janta’s enthralling dance routines, dubbing it the #oumichallenge. Actress Viola Davis shared one of Janta’s videos, captioning it, “Mood.”
Janta, who is in her 20s, was born in Senegal, and grew up in Germany, where she says she spent her childhood watching ice skaters on TV. She’d always loved seeing them in action as a kid but didn’t begin putting on blades or skates of any kind until fairly recently.
“Six years ago, during my studies, me and a friend went to a roller disco pretty [in Berlin] spontaneously, and I totally fell in love with rollerskating,” she says via email. “All those people where dancing with each other. No one cared about gender or age or looks. I felt really welcome.”
After that party, Janta had so much fun that she “couldn’t stop” skating, eager to learn more tricks on skates. Eventually, she quit her job to chase the freedom that skating gave her — to live, she says, “a free and more creative life.”
Since last year, she’s been teaching lessons and organizing her own roller discos in Berlin, in an effort to help grow the skating community in Germany. That’s her favorite thing about skating: the community, and the free spirit it facilitates.
“It’s a really huge part in my life. It calms me down when I feel stressed, or hypes me up when I feel down,” she says. “The perfect pill.”
Janta’s videos are mesmerizing, in large part, thanks to the element of dance that she incorporates into her skating, a combination of dance, gymnastics, and roller skating known as jam skating.
“When I started rollerskating, I dived automatically into Jam skating, which is heavily influenced by the 1960s and 70s of the Black community in the [United] States,” she says.
Music, of course, is also a big part of Janta’s routine. “The music I choose must make me feel the vibe and the beat. [It’s] all positive or groovy, sometimes electronic music,” she explains. Sometimes she’ll skate to something more contemporary, but more often than not, she likes to stick to the oldies — song choices her followers also seem to love.
Janta, who often re-shares her fans’ tributes to her on her Instagram stories, is still floored by all the adoration she’s been receiving.
“There is so much love and I am so happy and humbled that I receive such beautiful messages,” she says. “I wish I could hug everyone and thank everybody. A message like, ‘you made my day or week,’ ‘you make me smile,’ ‘you a whole inspo’… Those messages make me smile so much!”
It’s no surprise that Janta is inspiring people everywhere to get into rollerskating. So does she have any recommendations for anyone who wants to start?
“It’s better to buy nice and neat skates than cheap and bad ones,” she says. “It will last you longer! Don’t just go by the looks. Try them first. The more comfortable you feel in them, the better!