Addicted to novelty since 2001

Is Roller Derby a Sport for Punk Rockers?

Ever since the resurgence of interest in roller derby, I’ve been trying to contextualize the phenomenon. Who participates? Who attends the events? What cultural or sociological groups are driving its popularity?

I’ve never been to a, what, a game? I should, of course, but I’m not sure how many matches I’ll be able to catch on Malta.

I’m particularly interested in the whole showmanship (or showwomanship, as it were) angle. Is it a community-driven version of WWF or American Gladiators? I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I see a connection in this kind of feminine theatricality between the roller derby and burlesque phenomenona.

They seem to be opposite sides of the same coin of new forms of public displays. Put another way, burlesque enables the amateur to play with her sensuality in socially risky or formerly taboo ways, while roller derby enables her to play with her physicality and aggression.

I just watched a five-minute documentary on the sport from Cool Hunting. It didn’t answer many of my questions, but it did give a better sense of the participants. They feel a bit like the early adopters of Ultimate Frisbee, long before it went mainstream. The documentary seems to draw a connection between the punk aesthetic and attitude and roller derby. That may be coincidental, or strictly regional, but I thought it worth mentioning.

6 Responses to “Is Roller Derby a Sport for Punk Rockers?”

  1. Steve Philp

    My wife and I went to two Grand Raggidy Roller Girls matches here in Grand Rapids, MI to see what it was all about.

    I sort of expected a bit of WWF, but it really wasn’t there. The skaters treated it as a real sport. There is a bit of “over the top” hipster that surrounds it, what with the skater names and the supporting roles (penalty mistress, the announcers, etc).

    The Grand Rapids team has been skating for a couple years now and is slowly starting to build up an audience. Lots of family and friends of the skaters, but a lot of curious spectators that probably come back a few times.

    From the two matches that we attended, they get a higher turnout than the minor league men’s basketball team in town…

    All in all, the tickets are cheap ($10 for 2-3 hours entertainment), there’s beer on tap, it’s family-friendly, and you occasionally get to see a couple women kicking at each other with skates on.

    If you’re interested in the beginnings of the modern Roller Derby, try “Roller Girl: Totally True Tales from the Track” by Melissa Joulwan. It’s a quick, interesting read.

  2. Cameron

    Terminal City Roller Girls, here in Vancouver. I think you’ve run across Andi Struction before. Hit her up.

  3. Ruby Khan

    I could have sworn I posted a comment here before writing about your post. The jist of the comment was that while the WWF angle misses the mark, the rest of your impressions of modern flat track derby don’t feel too far off the mark from my experience of it. And after reading so so many bloggers just liken it to mud wrestling or cat fighting, it was refreshing to read someone who imagines there’s a little more going on culturally than just exhibitionism.

    I don’t think you’re wrong to touch on the roleplaying aspect of derby (or burlesque, from my limited knowledge of the scene now), there’s just a lot more to the appeal than that. If you’re ever in Boston, come see how one of the geekier leagues does things.


  4. Heather

    Hey Darren,
    It’s Heather. You may remember me as the Stage Manager for many an Epicentre Theatre show. I would now like to introduce you to the other me, Dr. Jenny Fever #103degrees of the Terminal City Rollergirls. I am part of the roller derby in Vancouver. Let me assure you, the athleticism of these girls is amazing. Most of the girls that I have talked to joined the derby because we are sports outsiders who remember roller skating in our youths. I can’t imagine going to the gym or going for a jog, but I will happily strap on a pair of skates and go for hours. The derby is also a place where girls who are not a size 3 or in perfect athletic form can go and compete and do really well. So, in that case, it is punk rock. The games-or bouts as they are called- are taken seriously in a fun manner. Nothing is staged, it is a competition between the teams. But we still enjoy getting dressed up for each other and putting on our derby personas. Heather would never hip check someone, but Dr. Jenny Fever will take you down- hard- and enjoy it.

    Let me know what questions you have, old friend.



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