As Yet Untitled

Friday, March 24, 2006

Disheveled - Rat City Roller Girls

Parts of this article were not written by me. They were added later by my editor.

This is the link to Disheveled's version: Here

This is the article as written by me:

In a cavernous hangar on the edge of Seattle's Magnusun Park, 80 ladies lace up their skates, tighten their protective gear, and glide out to the adoring cheers of a couple thousand fans. These are the women of Rat City Roller Girls. The few, the proud, and the extremely competitive.

Among those few is Dixie Dragstrip, one of the co-founders of the league. "We had a dinner party at my house. It was the end of March, 2004," says Dixie. "We were hanging out, drinking some wine. And one of the people there said, 'I just got back from Texas, and at SXSW I saw the most amazing thing: Roller-Girls. Did you know that it was back?' And we were like, 'Fuck no.' Give us some more wine and we'll talk about it."

(More inside)


At 4:03 PM, Blogger Tyson said...

Within a year, that discussion ultimately blossomed into the four teams that comprise Seattle's Roller Derby league.
"We had to set up a structure, create committees, those sorts of tasks," says Dixie. "We had to set up the business framework. Paramountly, though, we had to practice practice practice practice--all the time practice practice practice. It took us a while to get out game down. We used the Texas Roller Girl criteria, Austin flat-track, not the roller girls you see on A&E. It's a different game. A more difficult game, more hard-hitting, more strategic. It's a better game for audience participation, obviously, since you can end up with a roller girl in your lap."

But what, exactly, is roller derby? It's not the banked track of Rollerball (says Jojo Stilletto, a skater for the Sockit Wenches: "There's no ball. No one will be decapitated. James Caan will not be there.") and it isn't '70s exploitative cheese. Following rules championed by Texas' long-running Roller Derby league, a typical bout looks a little like this: two 14-minute-long periods, each divided into two-minute-long jams. Jams consist of up to five women on the track from each team. Each team gets one pivot, one jammer and three blockers on the track.

They get what, you say? Here's a break-down of the lingo.

Pivots are the skaters in the front of the pack. They wear striped helmets, set the pace, and often call the plays for the team. They are the last line of defense to prevent an opposing jammer from scoring.

Blockers keep the pack in a tight formation while trying to prevent a jammer from the opposing team from skating past them. Pivots, Blockers and Jammers can hip-check, but may not grab.

Jammers start at the back of the pack. Once the jam starts, the jammers, who wear starred helmets by the way, work their way through the pack and score points by passing members of the opposing team. "All the while," says the Sockit Wenches' Miss Fortune, "everyone is trying to kill you."

Following so far? It can be a little confusing. There's a lot of strategy involved and more than a little aggression. But even that doesn't properly explain Roller Derby to the uninitiated.

"It's better than wrestling on roller skates," says Dixie. "And a lot of people use that analogy. There's no words, I'd just have to show you, and then you'd be hurt."

And people do get hurt. Almost a year ago, Betty Ford Galaxy No. 12 broke her leg clean in two. It took her nearly six months to start walking again, but instead of becoming leery of the sport that took her out, she returned and was voted Most Improved, Best Spirit, and Best Takedown by the league. She, like all roller girls, loves the sport. But what's so special about skating around a track?

"I grew up out of Monroe, and I used to like going to Monster Truck Shows and demolition derbies and bull riding and old-fashioned tractor pulls," says Betty. "For me, this is an in-your-face contact sport. I go to a lot of hockey games, but I don't get to hang out with the hockey players. I don't get to be right next to them. With the flat-track, we literally seat people eight feet away from the edge of the track, and the skaters can land on them."

Betty smiles. "The other part I like is the camaraderie. Everyone likes each other; it's amazing. My team-mates are my best friends. And I love them so much--so much in fact, that I married one. They call it a 'Derby Wife', the girl that has your back. Constantly we look out for each other. We got married in Vegas in a mass wedding. Rocketman Houlihan is our manager; he married us as a team. Jojo Stilleto married her skates."

Of course, what happens in Vegas probably won't stay there. Like all of the Rat City skaters, Jojo joined during try-outs. "I was on their volunteer list, and on Friday at work, I got an email about try-outs. And I'm like, 'I'm not on the try-out list. Why are they sending it to me? There's no way.' But I was feeling good, I thought I can at least go and do this. I kept trying to talk myself out of it, and then a co-worker said, 'you look good in a black eye'."

In less than 48 hours, Jojo tried out, joined, and changed her life. "It's not that cheesy female empowerment thing, it's more that I'm willing to dedicate everything in my life to this thing I believe in. I never thought I could take my love of theater--I wanted to be a burlesque dancer, and look at me now, I'm a roller girl. And I get to use all these different parts of me. I'm with all these beautiful, talented women, so I guess I have to be the same."

Among those beautiful, talented throngs is Miss Fortune, who balances her night-time skating with her daytime work as a consultant with a degree from M.I.T. She's not the exception either. Other Rollergirl jobs include Ph.D student (in molecular and cell biology), ad agency print producer, and environmental engineer for the county.

"I've been playing sports for a really long time, but I was usually the only girl on the team," says Miss Fortune. "There's a different energy when you play with women. I'm very competitive, I'm very athletic. I really like those two aspects of it, but I also really like the fact that playing with women there's a feeling of camaraderie and support. When you're playing with men, it's all about competition, it's all about 'you fucking dropped the ball.' It's more negative than really supporting each other and the team in a positive way. Roller Derby is feminine, it's sexy, it's badass."

It's also self-sustaining. "It's almost exactly like a non-profit," says Dixie. "We're all volunteers, and we're all creating something that's very unique for Seattle. We're not asking for a salary, we're not paying ourselves. We actually pay dues. We put all of our money back into the program to bring something unique and cool to Seattle."

"It's skater owned and run," says Miss Fortune. "We've got committees that run advertising, promotion, web-site. Everything. We are absolutely in charge of it. You skate three to four nights a week. You do committee meetings. And then on a night off, you might go and hang out with derby girls and walk around and see a movie. It's completely consumed my life. I moved to Seattle and instantly met 70 fantastic people that I skate with. How can you beat 70 instant friends?"

Except on skates, you can't. The 80 ladies of Rat City Roller Girls have created an environment that's loud, fast, and fun for spectators, volunteers, and, most of all, the roller girls.

"I wish I would have started when I was a lot younger," says Betty Ford. "It's brought me a lot of things: camaraderie, friendship, team sports. I've gotten in shape. Other than a job, I haven't done anything in my life for two years. I've done stand-up comedy, I've raced cars, I've acted in movies, but all those things only lasted six months."

The Rat City Roller Girls is here to last. The season is just getting started, and they're about to take their traveling team down to compete in Austin. Go and see them once and be a fan forever.

"A year ago, I was depressed, overweight, and sick of the things I was doing in my life," says Jojo. "Then this thing comes along, and I join, mostly because I like the idea of it, didn't even know what roller derby was. The first practice I went to and saw a roller derby pile-up--three girls on the floor, their feet in the air, and I screamed out 'That's the sexiest thing I've ever seen!' That, in a nutshell, is roller derby."


Post a Comment

<< Home