Ten years ago, Portland’s bike scene was burgeoning. Zoobombing—speeding down the West Hills on blinged-out minibikes—was a new trend. But a group of lady cyclists felt something was missing: more ladies.
“The elephant in the room,” says Shannon Palermo, “was that this Zoobomb hill was a sausage fest. It was like being a girl at a metal show. You find the other two girls there and you’re like, ‘What’s up?’”
The Sprockettes, a women’s bike-based dance troupe, sprang from this sense of camaraderie within a male-dominated scene. “We weren’t like, ‘Hey man, you’re holding us down!’” Palermo says. “But what if we did it prettier?” So in the spring of 2004, they grabbed some minibikes—and lots of pink and black spandex.
They’re still at it today. For their 10th anniversary this weekend, the seven current Sprockettes host a reunion for former members—about 40 of them—who will travel to Portland from all over the country. They’ll meet at Peninsula Park on Friday, June 27, for a ride down the memory bike lane, stopping at old haunts like the former Clown House property on Northeast Alberta Street, where they first practiced. On Saturday, June 28, they’ll appear at the Multnomah County Bike Fair, the event where they first performed in 2004.
The group has a glam-punk style, favoring short shorts, leggings and the occasional tutu. Their moves strike a balance between cheerleading routines and circus stunts. None of the original members had dance experience, so they watched a friend’s aerobics VHS tapes and In Living Color’s Fly Girls for inspiration.
“We called ourselves an all-female synchronized minibike dance team,” says founding member Emilina Dissette, “but we were never really synchronized.”
They learned to incorporate the minibikes during hours of brainstorming sessions. In one move, “the wheelbarrow,” a dancer clasps the handlebars as two others grip her feet and whirl her around. Another move involves a dancer lying on her back—sometimes on the ground, but sometimes muscled into the air on another dancer’s back—and hoisting her bike over her body, pedals spinning. Occasionally, old bike tubes become lassolike props.
After their first show, they were invited to perform in other cities. They went on the road with New Belgium Brewing’s Tour de Fat bike tour. Other women’s bike dance groups were spawned: the Derailleurs in San Francisco, the Spokes in England, Gacharinco in Japan. Over the years, the Sprockettes have also stepped up their dancing, adding elements of acrobalance, lindy hop and salsa. Their performances today are a bit more stylized, a little more polished than their campy high jinks in the beginning.
But most important, the Sprockettes say, are their values: encouraging biking, a can-do attitude and expression of individual sexuality. It harks back to a song they’ve been playing since their first performance, “S.O.T.I.” by the psychedelic band Romanteek. On the track, the acronym is spelled out like a mantra: “sexy on the inside.”
have little tighty mighties and big ol’ fatties all working together,
being themselves and loving themselves,” Palermo says. “That message
resonates with an audience way more than any of our dance moves, how
pointed our toes are or how many fuckin’ tricks we nail.”
SEE IT: The Sprockettes’ 10th anniversary ride is at 7 pm Friday, June 27, at Peninsula Park, 700 N Rosa Parks Way. The Multnomah County Bike Fair is at 2 pm Saturday, June 28, at Colonel Summers Park, Southeast 20th Avenue and Belmont Street. More info at sprockettes.org.