Saturday, October 30, 2010

Skating History

Us as babies.

There are some internet how-to guides and discussion forums that may answer some questions that new roller derby teams have, but there’s no mainstream precedent for derby teams to model themselves after. Growing up, everyone has some inkling of how basketball is played, or has seen a football game without really trying. All these “whatever”ball sports pervade almost every American home and are as basic as apple pie. When it comes to roller derby, either no one has ever heard of it, or it is that thing they watched on TV when they were younger. (Or my favorite: “Oh, like the movie Whip It!?”) You have to search pretty hard for any sort of guide to running a derby team, and after that add a bunch of blood, sweat, and maybe a few broken bones before you really get what it is all about.

Fonda Cuffs and myself smooshing Sugar N Slice.
This Saturday is the second annual Monster’s Brawl, marking the one year anniversary of our first home bout. Thinking back to our first year as a team we had to learn quite a bit on the fly as we figured out what works and what fails miserably as an organized group of women. Whether we bickered about uniforms, searched for a bouting and practice place to call our home, or figured out the best way to organize the business structure of our team, it all took compromise, trial and error, patience, hard work and ultimately just lots of experience.

I hadn’t really realized how far we had come, until Animal Mother, GLADi8HER and I traveled 3 ½ hours to Humboldt, Iowa to practice with a brand new team that calls themselves the Dakota City Demolition Crew. (Dakota City being where their home rink is.) Their leader, Siren, had pervious derby experience and ran her team through some familiar drills. There were about eight girls skating that night and we were told about a total of twelve who come regularly after six weeks of practice. Most of them were fairly steady on their skates, but it was evident they hadn’t looked at the rules, or knew much of how it was played. That didn’t look like it was going to stop them though; their excitement and audacity seemed like it would be enough fuel for awhile.
Hanging with the Humboldt girls, and Kip!
Derby in Iowa as a whole this last year shows that where there’s a will there’s a way. The Des Moines Derby Dames formed a little over a year ago and began bouting in the spring with a fairly full first season. I thought it was too soon for them, but about 6 months later they’re sharing a short list of WFTDA apprentice leagues with the four year-old Mid Iowa Rollers and OCCRG in our second year. Also rapidly progressing since my last blog assessment of the Iowa roller derby scene are the Eastern Iowa Outlaws, Mahaksa Mayhem and the Cedar Valley Derby Divas.

One of the best parts of roller derby is that not only do you now share your life with everyone in your league, but you enter the greater roller derby community. Thriving in its DIY spirit, you begin making connections with teams and skaters all over the country or even the world. No matter who you are or what your background is, you find a common bond with women and men all over the world who are passionate about the sport. It becomes a culture you read about, you skate against, and you just can’t get enough of. Finding these new teams on their freshly created fanpages, you see the faces of all types of women in gym shorts and t-shirts. As time goes on, you see them grow through your facebook feed as you place derby names with faces, and they start adapting their practice wardrobe to these new confident, sexy identities.

The hardest part is getting this tight knit community to infiltrate the masses. As much as we would all love to just play derby for derby’s sake, we require an audience to feed us.  I see it growing online and in these small town Iowa teams, but people who are outsiders to derby don’t get it unless someone invites them in or they stumble head on into it. I figured in our small-ish college town the word of derby would spread like wildfire, but reaching the student population is our toughest market yet.

Uproar on the Lakeshore. Nov 5-7
Next week I will travel to Chicago to witness some of the top teams in North America at WFTDA Championships. It will be exciting to see and meet so many people who love derby as much as I do. I will see athletes that I have only read about and teams I have only seen boutcasts of. The magical thing is that these superstars are just like you or me; anyone can push themselves to the same level without a multi-million dollar contract or strict athletic standards. The only stipulation is that you have to get the sweaty before you get the shiny.

Roller derby is cementing itself in society as a full-fledged sport now, and has obviously become more than a passing fad as it had in the past. Even though this reincarnated version of derby has been around for nearly a decade, it is still in its infancy. Every girl who straps on a pair of skates, every team that pushes themselves harder, and every online forum abuzz about roller derby is helping cultivate the future of the sport itself. We are the living, breathing, skating history of derby.

Let's do the time warp again?

1 comment:

  1. Deadwards, I have to tell you that you are completely coming into your own as a derby writer. Your love and passion for the game has always been evidence since I've known you, but now it is really coming through in your writings as well.

    Just wanted to drop you a word to say keep up the wonderful work.