During the 80s and 90s, ludicrous choreographed fights known as wrestling were displayed on televisions across the globe. You may remember featured stars such as Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper o The Last Warrior. Though perhaps its roller skate counterpart, Roller Derby wasn’t as successful outside the United States.
Even though its origins go back to the start of the century, it wasn’t until the 70s that Roller Derby transformed itself -with costumes, choreographs, high doses of glitter and heroic comic book names- into a sensationalist spectacle of theatrical fights, also known as staged/fake fighting.
Now imagine it’s not fake and we’re left with the fighting (as well as everything else of course). And voilá: fast forward to contemporary Roller Derby.
In 2002 it recovered as a real, non-professional sport with a majority of woman participating. In 2003 the Derby Dolls league started in Los Angeles. It was founded by two women, Rebeca Nimburg (a.k.a. Demolicious) and Wendy Templeton (a.k.a. Thora Zeen). It grew for the next 10 years, making itself into a collective involving 150 women divided into 5 teams, four local and one which competes internationally. Names include Tough Cookies, Fight Crew and Varsity Brawlers, these teams play a game approximately every two weeks.
Watching a game in the Doll Factory (the current league venue) is living a 100% North American experience. They dim the lights, the hymn is played, hand on chest, a speaker shouts and the action starts. Feminism turned into a show: it’s fun, entertaining and impressive.
Though “behind the scenes” the Derby Dolls is a strong community of women, with a strict system of hegemony. At the tip of the pyramid is the founder, Femolicious, followed by the skaters and referees. At the base stand the volunteers.
To be a doll you need to want it, it’s all based on merit. You can take up to 3 years to become a player and let’s not fool ourselves, even though it’s in good faith, competition is fierce. Recruitment trials for freshers are every year and the players are chosen by a board of captains. These captains also need to win their place, as they are chosen by vote.
The dolls practice at least twice per week. It’s a full contact sport, with high doses of adrenaline and aggression. In Roller Derby you can’t avoid getting hit, or falling over. But you can learn to do it well. The more confidence players have, the less hurt they go through and the quicker they get back up. If on top of all this we add an 8 hour working shift and being a mother, it’s clear that the Doll Factory forges the character.
Motivations for each and every player varies and the group is heterogeneous. Most skaters agree that it helps them to disconnect and free themselves from the day to day stress and work. It’s like the female version of Fight Club… “Without violence, eh!”, they point out. Above all though, it’s the fact that they are part of an organization which was created and lead by women that feel free and protected. They feel a profound respect and appreciation towards their community.
For Demolicious it’s necessary to create these kind of spaces by and for women in the United States. Breaking the fragile stereotype and creating a new generation of women who claim back their entitled social, political and professional role. According to the founder, the United States is far behind Europe in that respect.
Far beyond the make up, war names and the roller skate shaped disco ball, the Derby Dolls have a real social impact in a world where media impact rules.
Photos: Bego Solís