The absurd ballet of roller derby


Is anything more queer (I mean that both ways) than roller derby?

If so, please tell me what it is so that I can replace the cobbled-together poster on the back of the bathroom door. Oh, wait, did I say roller derby? I meant Women’s Flat Track Derby Association and its participants. My bad, mea culpa, all apologies. This is no fly-by-night women’s sports league: There are teams in 20, count ’em, 2-0 states, from Seattle to New York City and everything in between. Texas seems to have particularly embraced this sport, with six different leagues registered with the WFTD Association and two in Dallas alone. I do have to say that even I find Dallas’ Assassination City Roller Derby to be a bit over the top in its marketing scheme. But then I discovered that this is the norm, as most of the WFTDA leagues display a scathing, if not completely wicked, sense of humor and an unabashed appreciation for the absurd.

Here in Pittsburgh, we have the Steel City Derby Demons League, consisting of four teams: The Bitch Doctors, the Hot Metal Hellions, the Slumber Party Slashers, and the Wrecking Dolls.The first time I heard about them, I harked back, in a very overwrought Garrison Keillor-y through a used coffee filter sort of way, to when I was a wee and impressionable lass watching roller derby with my great-grandparents. Bub had his spittoon by his recliner, but he never spat more than three times a day, so it was more of a courtesy or a just-in-case scenario than a necessity. And Gram would have her sewing kit out and would be darning something and tsk-tsking under her breath, shooting sidelong glances at the Bible on the end table. My sister, in her corrective shoes and pixie haircut, and I, in my precocious childhood perfection, were all bug-eyed watching the action. I’d never seen women hit each other like that! A well-placed elbow to the mouth, and someone was sans front teeth and spewing blood. Somehow it fermented into my brew of thinking that it was relentlessly savage, brutal as a feral cat in a bird’s nest, ruthlessly calculating and inexplicably wonderful — and all on wheels to boot! No wonder I got banned from the Evans City Roller Rink.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. Flat-track competition has a rich history along with its brisk new beginnings. Originally staged as little more than a sideshow gimmicky stunt, it struck a raw nerve and stuck deeply in the fringe middle-Americana psyche of glorious reverse sensibility. It literally flew in the face of everything we’re told about fair play, the dainty feminine mystique, and chaos being quantifiable to the rational mind. Quantum psychics aside, Wikipedia has a quick rundown of the roller derby timeline if you want to learn more.

Caty and I recently attended the Steel City Derby Demons Championship bout between the Bitch Doctors and the Hot Metal Hellions.

What impressed me the most was that the average roller derby participant comes across as the antithesis of a jock. The women wear uniforms of micro miniskirts, fishnet stockings and thongs, with faces sometimes made up in a death mask. I thought, they’ve taken roller derby to a whole other level — and I like it! The women are powerful, agile and seriously relentless, jostling their jammer into a position to score. It’s like a brutal ballet, almost medieval, quite lovely in the raw passion the derbiers (I just invented that word) bring to the sport.

The Texas Championship shootout competition runs the weekend of Sept. 29–30. If you have a desire to go and are in the area, then GO!

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