What do 10 girls on a track, wearing miniskirts and roller skates and beating the shit out of each other amount to? The most violent sport your parents could watch on TV in the '70s.
Originating from Chicago in the 1930s, roller derby has become a cult favourite to diehard fans as well as an integral part of history. The game consists of two teams of five players skating around a track. Each team is made up of three blockers and a pivot constituting the defensive line that attempts to stop players on the other team and a jammer. The jammer's job is to lap members of the other team in order to score points. Play usually goes on through two-minute jams and can be called off if a jammer gets through the opposing pack cleanly, thus scoring a point for her team. Inline skates are not allowed in the sport, meaning all players must don quad-wheel roller skates.
Though the sport is very aggressive by nature, a player can get minor and major penalties for illegal play, like pushing from behind, hitting from behind, biting and hitting in the face. Four minor penalties add up to a major penalty, resulting in a player possibly being removed from game. A player can receive up to three minor penalties. Though not technically allowed throughout the game, some players have been known to use these rules to their advantage.
"It's been known for people to take a minor penalty--something like a small elbow--and get the point," says Aleksey Wolkowski/Lexi Fatale (#-1), a member of the Calgary roller Derby Association and a first-year engineering student at the University of Calgary. "Take the minor, get the point. Also, they can use that to get through the pack. So, it's a kind of defensive, aggressive move."
The CRDA provides Calgary's roller derby fix. The group is an all-female league with two main teams--the Cut Throat Car Hops and Thrashin' Lassies--and another team for training new members, the aptly named Fresh Meat. The league, with an amazing member age-range of 18-44, focuses on maintaining some of the classic aesthetic of the sport while providing an outlet to participate in a very unique activity.
"It involves skating, which I love, dressing up, which I love, and violence, which I also love," says Angela Merzib/Angi Septic (#31ml).
Given the nature of the sport, the group's member diversity is not surprising. Many of the members found out about the league after seeing demonstrations at tattoo conventions or seeking the activity out after learning a little about it.
"It's an aggressive sport and it's a different sport," says Wolkowski. "It's not something that you can flip on the television, flip open a sports magazine and see the latest on roller derby. Consequently, that outside crowd happens to fall into that."
Janet Fisher/Criminal Intent (#14) sees it as a cathartic outlet.
"I'm really aggressive, so it was a way to get out that aggression," she says. "Here I am, a year later, hurting people."
Though the sport seems to attract people from all sides of the spectrum, there are a lot of misconceptions about the sport that relate it to the rockabilly movement. The aesthetic of the competition outfits and the image sent out by its retro feel is often misleading.
"I wouldn't want to pigeon-hole the girls into being rockabilly or punk rock," says Fisher. "We've got 30 girls and we're all different. Right now, rockabilly's really hot, but a few years ago, [the trend] would've been punk rock. As you'll notice, we're all kind of half retroed out, but there are the punks, the freaks, the jocks, there's really a huge variety."
Though the activity prides itself on its aggressive and cutthroat nature, the CRDA has become a place for its members to make long-lasting friendships and learn new things about many different kinds of people.
"I have a hard time remembering what I did before I met all the girls in derby, honestly," says Keeley McMillian/Adoll Hitter (#55). "It's fun because we're people who don't take ourselves too seriously."
"We make such good relationships with each other than you can full-out take someone out on the track and then be friends off the track," she says. "We do hang out outside of roller derby. There are more people to hang out with, more people to go to concerts with, people to grab a bite to eat [with] now."
In the end, roller derby becomes all-consuming for its members, in a good way.
"They say, if you're married or whatever, you have a widow now," Fisher says. "You basically get married to derby. You breathe it in. You eat, breathe and sleep it."
The girls of roller derby seem to get a lot of enjoyment from pushing on a subversive, yet intriguing sport.
"It's fun because we get to dress up in super-cute outfits and play a contact sport," says MacMillan. "It doesn't get any better than that. It's full-makeup and full-contact."