Fishnets and kneepads: Derby’s unique style rolls north
Booty blocking, fresh meat, fishnet burns: you’re unlikely to hear these terms in any other team sport. Then again, few athletic pursuits are quite like roller derby.
“In what other sport do you get to wear fishnets?” asks Lady IzaHella (known to family and friends as Tarea Roberge). “I’m a stay-at-home mom. I wear sweatpants most of the day.”
When she steps out of her sweats and into her stockings, roller skates, and stage name, Roberge gets to take on an alter ego. For many women, derby is an opportunity to escape everyday life, blow off some steam, get some exercise and do it all with a fun group of women they wouldn’t normally rub elbow pads with.
In the North, Prince George has one of the province’s original roller derby teams, while Terrace is just ready to get rolling on its first season, and Smithers is in the preliminary stages of getting a team together. It seems that soon, communities across the region might have access to the fastest growing — and most intriguing — women’s sport in North America.
PG leads the charge “It seemed really badass,” Deanna Danskin says about her first roller derby experience. She caught a game in Calgary in 2006, about the same time the Rated PG Rollergirls team was forming in Prince George.
“I put skates on and was hooked,” she remembers. She went to her first practice, where she was expected to learn skating skills like crosscutting. “I was so terrified. I had butterflies in my stomach and felt like I was going to puke. It was so intimidating.”
Within the first two weeks, Danskin took a few spills, earned a few bruises, but decided to buy her own gear. She quickly improved and was recruited to the team for an exhibition game. At the time she was reading a book about women of the ’60s and decided to base her persona on Warholian model and socialite Edie Sedgewick.
And thus, rollergirl Edie SedgeWhip was born.
“The names are fun because it gives you an alter ego. That was always one of the things that was appealing about roller derby,” she says. “I think it helps people let go of any inhibitions.”
Roller derby is a team contact sport played predominantly by women, most often sporting fishnets, hot pants and other punk-inspired accessories. Derby has also been associated with third-wave feminism, as it glorifies both female strength and sexuality.
“There’s a whole DIY thing about it. It’s very self-organized. The league itself is run by the skaters, for the skaters,” explains Danskin, adding that most leagues don’t allow company names or logos on costumes. “The women are calling the shots on what they want in their sport.”
Rated PG gets upwards of 500 people when it hosts games, which happens about a half dozen times over the January-to-May season. Being the province’s northernmost team has its challenges—the girls often travel 12 hours or more to play another team. “It really would be awesome to have more teams in the North,” Danskin says.
Fun, feisty and feminineRoller derby gained popularity early in the 20th century on banked tracks but denigrated into an entertainment sport (think WWF wrestling) with staged antics and scripted outcomes by the 1970s. Its revival started in 2000 in Austin, Texas and spread into British Columbia about five years later with Vancouver’s Terminal City Rollergirls. Prince George started one of the province’s first leagues shortly after.
Today’s flat-track roller derby is played with participants circling in the same direction as jammers—designated point-scorers—try to lap the other team. A bout, or game, is made up of several short jams, while other members of the team, called blockers, attempt to block the other team’s jammer from scoring points.
In 2009, the film Whip It propelled the sport into the mainstream. It was this coming-of-age story that caught Christine Añonuevo’s attention. She watched a bout at PG’s Roll-A-Dome and began to wonder what it would take to get a Smithers team going.
“It was fun, it was feisty and it was feminine,” she says. “It turned the traditional monoculture view of what we think it means to be feminine on its head.”
Añonuevo began talking to existing teams in Fort St. John, Prince George and Terrace about how to get a team together and says the response was overwhelmingly positive. But the biggest challenge, for many teams, is finding a practice space. Añonuevo’s first challenge is searching for a space that’s big enough, within budget and available for practices two or three times a week.
The Smithers team will also need to form a non-profit registered society, learn the rules—there is a 40-page rulebook—and, finally, learn the skills. Each player has to pass a Minimum Skills Requirement test that includes starting, stopping, crossovers, checks, blocks and skating 25 laps in five minutes. But before practising skills can start, the team will need a space: “As soon as we have a space, we’ll get practices together,” Añonuevo says.
The team is also looking for volunteers—male or female—to help with coaching and refereeing. Anyone interested in getting involved can find Smithers Roller Derby Girls on Facebook.
“In terms of an exercise in community development, we’re getting together a group of people from all different backgrounds,” Añonuevo says. The sport typically attracts a wide spectrum of women: some with athletic backgrounds in rugby, mountain biking, or hockey—or none at all—with ages ranging from late teens into 50s.
“It’s neat that you can bring together women from different and diverse backgrounds,” Añonuevo says. “You get to celebrate being feminine, yet still be athletic and still be competitive.”
Ready to roll in Terrace Having another derby team just down the road would be an asset to Terrace’s Northcoast Nightmares as they step into the arena for their first games this season. The Nightmares formed a year-and-a-half ago and the team is ready to embark on its debut season.
The team is fortunate to have hangar space donated by Hawkair for practices, but the biggest challenge is getting teams to travel to the far-flung region of BC, which often requires fundraising to pay for travel. As there are no local refs, the team is currently willing to send a volunteer away for referee training.
“We’re hoping Smithers gets rolling here,” Tarea Roberge says. The team has invited any aspiring Smithers roller girls to Terrace practices, providing them a place to get a feel for the skates. “The first year is really just getting to know the sport. Being up here, there is a lot of research and learning on your own.”
In December 2011, Canada hosted the inaugural Roller Derby World Cup, placing second behind the US. Brie Birdsell, who was born and raised in Terrace but now lives and derbies in Montreal, played for Team Canada. The famous derby girl made a trip to the Northwest in August to host a boot-camp for the Nightmares.
“We’re still recovering,” Roberge says. “We were pretty happy.”
Roberge describes her derby friends as a second family. It’s a chance to get out with the girls, laugh and get some exercise. “It gives me a chance to have adult conversations. When I go to derby, we bust our butts and crack jokes and have fun,” she says. “Being able to skate really fast and hit really hard, then help the person up and shake their hand and everything’s fine.”
And that’s what also sets roller derby apart: despite its badass reputation, roller derby has a gentle touch. Hits are followed with a hand up and each game, no matter now competitive, usually leads to the local pub, where strong bonds are built between rival teams. Players and spectators alike can look forward to the excitement as derby gets rolling in the North.