My 23 year-old daughter recently tried out for the CT Roller Girls team. While she didn’t qualify, she will try again and what’s more important, she and our family were introduced to the world of roller derby. After attending several bouts, I was amazed at the sincere camaraderie between the team members, as well as the rival teams. It made me realize that ladies involved in roller derby ascribe to my women helping women mantra.
Aside from the sisterhood, the thing I’ve enjoyed most are the names and the costumes. Each skater must create her alias or “skater name” and once it’s registered, the name is hers forever. I haven’t quite figured out how the scoring works, so when I’m not watching the Jammer, I spend a good part of each bout reading the names on the backs of shirts and chuckling to myself about the clever wit of the skaters. Skaters often assume the persona that goes along with their skater name. Some of my favorites are:
Tess of the Derby Wheels
My daughter, whose last name is Urban, experimented with names like Urban Blight, Urban Decay, Urban Sprawl. I could simply be Veal Chopper.
Most people over the age of forty have heard of roller derby, but it’s a sport of mystery and misinformation. That misinformation is the reason my husband and I weren’t quite sure we heard correctly when our daughter said she wanted to try out for a roller derby league. She’s a gentle young woman who practices yoga and Reiki and never raises her voice. She helps turtles cross the road and, like me, puts spiders outside rather than kill them. In the 1950s, a skater could hit, elbow, and punch another skater. After attending our first bout, we learned there are now penalties for grabbing or using the hands, blocking with the forearms, tripping, kicking, pushing, punching, shoving, elbow jabbing, blocking with the head, and hitting from behind.
In the 1950s, physical violence was all part of this entertaining, but scripted, sport – much like the WWF. Today, most of the derby leagues are governed by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). The days of a banked track are gone and I’ve read that every amateur track is absolutely flat. This is the beauty of the new roller derby; a league doesn’t have to buy or build a track. There are women skating in roller rinks, old warehouses and bowling alleys, airplane hangars and even in empty parking lots. Each team member volunteers her time, talent, and skill in organizing and running different committees, much like a business and this was actually a question posed to my daughter. There are fundraising, sponsorship, public relations, merchandising, and volunteer committees and most leagues believe in giving back to the community. Women helping women – that’s what it’s all about.
So what’s the appeal of contemporary roller derby? I don’t follow any sport, so that’s not what attracts me. There is so much more to roller derby than you might think. It’s not about the fishnets. For me, it’s the idea that women all around the world have created these spaces for themselves. That’s the beauty of it all: it’s grassroots. Men aren’t excluded, but neither are they running the show. On just one team you’ll find college students, lawyers, waitresses, dental hygienists, stay-at-home-moms, and teachers. There are women of all sizes, all ages. Some are tattooed, many are bruised but they’re doing it their way. You can feel it from the “suicide seats” located on the floor. Roller derby girls are no different from the women who belonged to Amish quilting circles of the 1800s, or Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha of Sex and the City fame.
You know you want an alias? What would yours be?
Velya Jancz-Urban is the author of Acquiescence and the creator of The Not-So-Good Life of the Colonial Goodwife
Learn more about her and her novel at: http://www.acquiescencethebook.com