To be honest, I thought roller derby was just about the babes. What's better than hot chicks in short shorts? Hot chicks in short shorts on wheels. I thought it was a sport in the way that cheerleading is a sport - it's not, really, but don't say that in front of the girls or you won't get lucky. That's a pretty negative impression right there, but I paid $10 to go to a roller derby just to see what it was all about.
Roller derby appears to be an actual sport. There are hot chicks in short shorts, but there are regular looking chicks and even homely and overweight ones, too. Rather than seeming sexist, it was sort of impowering. You, uh, go, girl, I guess?
I might as well make an attempt at explaining the rules. They were laid out in the program, but made no sense, either because of bad writing or because the rules actually make no sense.
Flat-track rollery derby is played in a big circular track, which skaters go around and around. The derby is divided up into "jams," which last two minutes long. In a jam, you have the following for each team: one "jammer" and four "blockers" who skate together in the "pack." It is the jammer's job to get through the pack, earning points for passing players on the opposing team. It is the blockers job to both prevent the opposing jammer from getting through and to assist your own jammer in her quest to get through the pack. The first jammer to get through the pack without fouling is the lead jammer, which gives her the power to "call off the jam" early, usually to prevent the other jammer from scoring. She does this by tapping her hands to her hips several times in succession (I wondered about using this signal at the next overlong office meeting). There are also rules about going out of bounds and fouls and stuff like that, but as I don't expect any of you to take up derby officiating, you don't really need to know them. Also, I didn't really understand them, even though diagrams were provided.
It is an aggressive game. As the girls circle the track, there is much shoving and pushing and falling down. They all wore knee and elbow pads. Those who did not wear tights revealed legs covered in either very dark bruises or very abstract tattoos, possibly a mix of both. At first it just looked like pointless violence, as if you had told a group of women to act like 10 year old boys. But as I watched, I started to pick up on the strategy of it. I cheered along when our jammer pulled ahead thanks to a whip-like pull from a teammate, pumped a fist in the air when one of our blockers used her backside to her advantage, gasped at a particularly bad spill. Like my first hockey game, even when I didn't exactly know what was going on, I did know that it was exciting.
And there are the names. Each girl had chosen a stage name, a persona, an alter ego. They were mostly meant to be scary or tough, and they were often puns. My favorite was Lady Smackbeth, although Pretty Sk8 Machine came a close second. Of course, those of us in the crowd also thought of names for ourselves, just in case we ever got the hankering to strap on some skates and shove people with our be-spandexed bottoms. I sat next to Emily Kickinshin, pleased to have picked a seat next to such a clever person. Finally, it came to me that I would be Sandy Whiplash.
Whatever I expected out of roller derby, I did not expect to find a whole subculture on display. The skaters wore outlandish outfits - bright tights and leggings, loud bathing suit bottoms and hot pants, extensive tattoos. But the crowd itself was a parade of alternative fashion: vintage hats, elaborate facial hair, spiky mohawks. One guy was dressed as bacon. That doesn't really have anything to do with anything, but it's the sort of detail that begs to be included. I was wearing a t-shirt with the Superman logo and the word "DAD," and I looked conservative.
I had a great time. Sometimes I even, just a little bit, wanted to strap on some skates and try it out. Then I saw a girl go flying skates over teakettle and decided that watching was probably enough for me.