Tuesday, August 7, 2012

In Which I Fall A Little In Love With Roller Derby

The other day, my friend said he was going to the roller derby. I decided to tag along. I knew nothing about it, but had some vague idea that it would have the camp and violence of professional wrestling and the outfits of a lingerie show. Not exactly my scene. Still, with a toddler, you don't get out of the house much, so I'd give it a chance.
Roller Derby (10)
This photo is from Flickr user 4nitsirk, not the actual event I went to.
Due to a series of (boring) mishaps, I was phone-less (and thus camera-less) for the day. 
The first thing I found out was that I wasn't completely misinformed when I thought that the event would hold the spectacle of a WWE match, just out-dated. Apparently, the roller derby of the 70's was a much more scripted, much less athletically regulated event. But things have changed. 

Forgive me if I'm boring you with things you already know, but I have never even seen Whip It (should I? Is it good?), so this was all news to me. (If it's also all news to you, here's a good FAQ.)

The new roller derby is largely a grassroots movement, and a lot of teams even have open acceptance policies where you can join the team regardless of skill level. They also focus less on a script (previously, many of the matches were predetermined) and more on athleticism. The result is a beautiful (if incredibly odd) mixture of so many things I love: third wave feminism, athletic strength and agility, powerful women, pop culture, and body acceptance. 

Here, in no particular order, are the things that drew me in:
  • Body diversity: Don't misunderstand me. The women on this team were fit. I watched them tumble and roll back into a standing position without pause, jump over fallen teammates, and race through the bashing bodies of the other women. They clearly put a lot of effort into staying strong and active. But there was a huge range in the body types of the athletes. Some were very thin, some were very muscular, some were larger. 
  • Body positivity: In addition to representing a range of body types, these women also embraced (through both their athleticism and their attire) body positivity. Some women were clad in booty-baring lacy shorts. Others wore long bike shorts. Some seemed heavily made up with perfectly curled hair. Others had bare faces and short, spiky cuts. But all of them absolutely radiated with an appreciation for what their bodies could physically do and the fun they had while doing it. 
  • Nerdy pop culture references AND word play: So all the women make up their own name and number. Most of them contained some sort of playful reference to violence (they're tough, you know), and many of them were pop culture allusions. I saw, for instance, Dora the Destroyer and Munchhausen by Foxy (it's like meta-pop culture!). 
  • Violence Wasn't So Violent: Even after I was relieved to find out I wasn't about to witness a scripted spectacle, I was still worried that I'd be watching a bloodfest. Undoubtedly, it's a rough sport. There's a lot of pushing and shoving and falling. But--at least in what I saw--there wasn't a lot of injury. The rules seem pretty strictly designed to avoid the most dangerous actions, and most of the women seemed genuinely careful about the other team's well being. Which brings me to my absolute favorite thing of all. . . 
  • Camaraderie: I've watched a lot of sporting events. I've seen a lot of inter-team handshakes and obligatory congratulations from the losers. I don't think I've ever witnessed an event where that sportsmanship felt so sincere. At the same time, though, every single one of them seemed completely committed to winning. That mixture--the dedication to winning mixed with respect for their opponents--is a great representative of what productive conflict should be like. There's a great give and take between winning and being fair, between having fun and kicking ass. 
Unfortunately, my very first roller derby experience was the very last one of the season. So now I'll have to wait a while before I go back. 

Have you ever been? What do you think? Did you have a different picture in mind?

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