Sunday, February 5, 2012

Roller Derby: Empowering Entertainment

I don't want to speak for all Seattlites, but I know that it came as a surprise to me (and many people I talked to) that Seattle had a roller derby league. Roller derby seems like a thing of the past somehow, and invokes images of burly women who, as Jim Croce would say, are "built like a 'frigerator with a head."

Not so, Blogfans, not so.

Some friends and I went to the Rat City Rollergirls bout at the Key Arena this January, not really knowing what to expect. Specifically, I wondered what kind of people go to roller derby bouts. As it turned out, the spectators were people in their 50's, hipsters, teenagers, nerds, and everyone in between. And they all seemed to love roller derby.

Having never been to or even heard of anyone going to a roller derby bout, I had to look up the rules and read them ahead of time to know how the scoring worked, but the energetic announcers clarified what was happening, so you don't have to be a derby expert to follow the bout.

Another assumption I held about roller derby was that the sport was very violent. While it's true that the skaters got knocked down and body checked and went sprawling across the rink frequently, the nature of the collisions spills was not malicious. There were none of the aggressive, angry confrontations one sees in hockey games, for instance. The skaters here got back up, continued to skate and then talked and laughed with the opposing team when they returned to the lineup together.

It's hard to tell from my photos, which are taken from a distance with a zoom lens, but the participants vary in size and shape. Some of the girls were very large, as per the stereotype, but many were average-size women and a few were actually quite small. One thing I loved was that each girl has a derby name, so she creates her own persona, such as Anya Heels, Kamikaze Kim and Missile America. The smallest skater called herself Nehi (knee-high) Nightmare.

Watching the amazing displays of athleticism was really the highlight of this event. The skaters are quick, strong, agile and extremely tough. I would say that the Rollergirls' bouts are fun for the whole family, but in truth, you might want to be aware that there will be some references that parents might not want young children to be exposed to. A skater named "Muffstache" and a team called the Sockit Wenches are just a couple of examples, but nothing rated R. Maybe PG-13.

If you're looking for an activity that is exciting, out of the ordinary dinner and a movie, and that is empowering to women, go see the Rat City Rollergirls!

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