Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Flat Track Side-Tracked: My Other Life and Blog

There's been long term radio silence on this blog, largely due to a busy school schedule, a new puppy and very little skate time. Also, I have another blog, but we'll get to that. Though I'm currently out with a recent ankle injury, once I'm cleared, I'm planning to rejoin the ranks of the rolling. ...Again.

Though I feel like I spend a great deal of time trying to get back into derby after recurring absences, I have high hopes this time. Why? For one thing, after hearing that along with physical activity, derby offers a weekly chance for me to work on my social anxiety, my psychiatrist is very firmly on the derby bandwagon and the opinion of the person prescrbing your SSRIs can have something of an effect. Also, my partner Antonio will be joining me: now that cricket season is winding down. he'll be volunteering with FCDG and hopefully attending skate practices. And frankly, I feel so sluggish lately that I'm really craving a chance to reconnect with my body and health. As is often the case, derby is the answer.

With those high hopes in mind, I thought I would introduce my other home on the internet: my gaming blog. Coming into the third year of my PhD, I decided to start up a blog that reflected my academic interests. It's still pretty fresh, but any readers of this blog looking for fresh content and willing to talk games should check out The Bagatelle.

In the mean time, despite the long quiet, TPE has not been abandoned, but awaits new skating experiences to feed it. Jam City Rollergirls, alas, does not count. But I should probably blog about it somewhere.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Postcards from the Inside Track: First Practice Back + NSOing a Mixed-Gender Scrimmage

This past week, I had my first fresh meat practice with FCDG on Thursday and NSO'd a Men's and Women's scrimmage in Woodstock. A dramatic landing after approximately forty seconds on my skates on Thursday resulted in an ongoing ouchie, so this post was very nearly titled The Sore Ass: Synonyms for Pain. Perhaps that classy title will appear later.

On Thursday, I was very nervous before practice. My anxiety has kept me from getting to the fresh meat practice at FCDG before and I was unsure if I could make it. Happily, a friend called to offer a ride to practice and that sealed the deal. Getting back on skates after a long break was a study in humility: I could barely get off the floor without using my hands. However, the trainer I was working with was wonderfully patient and positive. Due to anxiety and work, I've had more absences from and returns to derby and subsequent visits to fresh meat training than most and FCDG's one on one training was some of the best I've had. Next up: getting in shape again. Somehow.

This Sunday, I was penalty wrangler/tracker for a scrimmage hosted by Woodstock. Open to men and women, the scrimmage featured skaters and officials from Tri-City, TORD, Royal City, Rollergettes, LMRD, Festival City, FCDG, and Woodstock. Several of the players were also referees affiliated with their home leagues, so the occasional penalty getting called from the bench was slightly confusing for a first-time tracker. The referees and NSOs were a dream to work with and scampering around the inside track was great fun. The most frequent penalties assigned were for cutting the track, with fore-arms coming in second.

It was my first time watching a mixed-gender scrimmage and I have to admit that I expected it to be rough. What I didn't expect was that the hits, though hard, were generally legal. There were a few dramatic pile-ups, but the scrimmage went more smoothly than expected.

Woodstock also hosted a free dinner after  the scrimmage, which was a great idea. Free food encouraging community and connections between leagues? Delicious genius.

Next up, continuing to practice with FCDG and a post on the scarcity of referees.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Festival City vs Area 705: Melee in Milverton + Blog Announcement

After a long break from derby, I'm back, training to be a referee with the Forest City Rangers, the referees associated with London's own Forest City Derby Girls. I'll also be blogging about my experiences in hopes that offer trainee refs and folks curious about working to earn their stripes might find it useful. Look for updates each Monday!

Copyright Area 705 Roller Derby
As part of my training, I'm currently NSOing as often as I can. This past Saturday, the Festival City Rollergirls' Decapulettes hosted the Area 705 Roller Derby's Smooth Operators. The match-up promised a great chance for the Decaps to show their fast-paced improvement and Area 705 to take on a more experienced team and earn both some bruises and some crucial playtime. Both teams had visiting players from other leagues (including Toronto LOCO, LOCO Kitchener and LMRD) and referees from all over (WEWRA, FDCG, among others already mentioned) showing derby spirit and helping fill the rosters and positions

The Decaps maintained control throughout the game, with some excellent jamming and hard hits. But the Smooth Operators were no slouches and showed a great deal of potential with incredible sportsmanship. From the perspective of the penalty box, I saw quite a few players from both teams, but the Smooth Operators did their league proud with great attitudes.

My favourite players of the bout? The Decaps' nimble Cargoyle and the Smooth Operators' Rainbow Crash, who was all enthusiasm in Pinkie Pie socks.

Copyright Festival City Rollergirls
My favourite sight at the bout were the "Go Decaps!" pennants on sale. Cheap and easy to make, pennants are a great way to sell some merch, distract children and get some team colours into the crowd. Kudos to whoever in Festival City decided to go for them. It's great to see leagues diversifying the content of their merch tables. A Decaps fan at Saturday's bout could buy shirts, buttons, pennants and hot sauce. Happily the hot sauce did not come to the after-party.

All in all, Saturday's bout was a great showing and a wonderful way for a derby fan to get back in the game.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Featured Blog - BeLEAGUEred: Adventures in Roller Derby League Administration

Today's featured blog is BeLEAGUEred: Adventures in Roller Derby League Administration. This new blog is the work of a good friend of mine who has written a great guest-post for our own TPE previously. BeLEAGUEred focuses on the ins and outs of league administration, straight from the source.

BeLEAGUEred addresses an important gap in derby blogging - you can't swing a pair of skates on the internet without hitting a (sweet) player blog, but league administration just doesn't have the same online resources. It's essential to tell derby stories from all sides of the sport - sharing the ideas of players, refs, NSOs, fans, and administrators too. Without the folks who run leagues, we're just skating in circles. League administration blogs like this one also offer key insight for readers interested in how your your derby sausage gets made: new admins and experienced admins looking for ideas on how to make the roller derby machine run deserve support. With BeLEAGUEred leading the way, it's my hope that we'll see more of that conversation spread.

Knuckle Slamwitch of Toronto LOCO has a clear, (leg)whip-smart writing style that makes obvious her intelligence, pop-culture sensibility and passion for the game. With multiple league experiences under her belt, she's qualified and smart, making her a great voice to lead discussions on league administration.She's already listed some future topics and is casting her nets wide for informed voices to interview (it could be you!). Get in contact via her blog to share your experiences and help start a great new blogging project.

In the mean time, thank your league admins for their time and effort. Those people work hard.

Monday, 31 December 2012

"Jalapeno Business": Top Chef Takes on Derby

The tenth season of the cooking competition reality show "Top Chef" recently featured an episode called "Jalapeno Business" in which the cheftestants attend a Rat City bout (with Rose City) and create dishes based on derby names from the Rat City Rollergirls. Featured skaters were Missile America (given, for some reason, the name "Teriyaki Terrror", but more on that later), Kutta Betch (as "Kutta Rump"), Tempura Tantrum and Eddie Shredder. Cooking, product placement, and drama ensues.

The episode receives a mixed score in terms of roller derby representation. I have to give the producers big ups for featuring the skaters in track jackets, looking professional and fierce. I worried that the players would be clumsily sexed up or objectified. Instead, the producers chose to go the "tough derby" route of representation. The skaters introduce themselves by punning on their names using lines like "I'm Teriyaki Terror and I tear girls up." Judge Emeril Lagasse describes the skaters as "bold and brash" and instructs the chefs to cook appropriately, but "bring a helmet" to the game. A contestant describes the sport as "a really crazy, violent version of the Icecapades". All in all, pretty typical stuff. Derby is violent. Derby girls are tough. Rrawr. In this respect, the show relies on the sport to reflect a sense of cutthroat competition and high-stakes.

They also use the cheftestants going to a bout for colour and some footage of what appears to be a pretty drunk castmember. Appropriately, drama follows, but sadly none of the derby variety.

 A charming  interlude features Padma Lakshmi, the show's host, showing off her skating skills and being named "Padma Smacks-Me". The scene features a colour shift and effects reminiscent of an 70s' rollerdisco film, complete with retro font. This association of derby with the rollerdisco of the seventies is a common mistake, but it's not so aggravating as the obviously missed opportunity to coin the name "Padma Lash-Me" (you saw it here first).

Less ambivalent props are due to the show for showing the Seattle Derby Brats logo, as well as the WFTDA logo and bout footage. To a producer, shots like these are useful filler, but to a derby fan or a Rat City player watching and saying "Hey, that's totally my butt!" these recognizable images are meaningful and fun. It's also good publicity for both Rat City and the sport in general.

Where I found myself disappointed was seeing the skaters misrepresented. Missile America and Kutta Betch both had their names changed, presumably to avoid the potential issues of having names that bring to mind violence or colourful language as well as more directly guide the dishes being made. In the first case, though the 'appropriateness' of derby names is an ongoing discussion, the sport is not known for its delicacy. Why choose to feature players whose names you'll have to 'change' for broadcast?

The players featured are described as being All-Star members, but according to Rat City's site, that roster changes frequently, which may explain why Tantrum and Shredder (awesome though they are) aren't currently on the roster. I don't know if they were part of the All-Stars at the time of filming, but why not just describe them as Rat City players and eliminate the extra chance to misrepresent the league? Other players certainly could have been chosen to avoid indelicate language and hit particular food associations - Rat City has Punk'n Pie, Slamburger Patty, and Raspberry Slam, to name just a few. Missile and Kutta both have names they're right to be proud of and Bravo's cavalier willingness to change their names shows, at its base,  a misunderstanding of the sport.

Obviously, I can't claim to speak for Rat City and its players. Taking part in the episode provides useful publicity and helps the sport reach out to prospective fans, players and officials. I think their choice to be involved was a wise one and further proves the ability of Rat City and its players to act as excellent (and, er, quitequiteattractive) ambassadors for the sport.

I just hope that the Bravo Network's next trip to the rink treats Rat City and their sport the way they deserve.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Even Before the Pegassist: Ultra Pony Roller Derby

Early on in my blogging, a Facebook friend got very excited about a post-related status, that is, until he realized I had typed "roller derby", not "roller Derpy" in reference to one of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic's characters, Derpy Hooves. In turn, this term is not to be confused with Roller Derp, a fine Tumblr run by Horrifica and Goldy of the Philly (and not filly) Rollergirls. This was perhaps my first hint that roller derby and the rebooted My Little Pony cartoon sometimes crossed serendipitous paths.

In the twelth episode of the show's first season, "Call of the Cutie", something indeed magical happens. I give you: Ultra Pony Roller Derby.

Copyright Hasbro
Sadly, this scene is one of several in a montage of one filly's attempts to find her special talent, but short as it is, it manages to get more right than some CSI episodes. It's unclear if Applebloom (the small pony with the pink bow to the left) is supposed to be jamming and those helmet spikes seen to the right certainly would not pass an equipment check. But the skaters attempting to "eat the baby filly" are indeed on quads and the resulting pile-up of hapless blockers put me in mind of anyone playing against the amazing Short Stop of the Canberra Roller Derby League and Team Australia 2011.

I point out this 23-second scene not merely because I'm a fan of the show but because it's a sign of what I regretfully must call derby creep (by which I do not mean that guy who hangs out at the rink). Representations of roller derby in popular culture vary pretty wildly from relatively accurate to barely worthy of the designation, As derby spreads, so too do the shout-outs in pop culture. The My Little Pony pop-up is noteworthy particularly because though the show has a broad fanbase, it is theoretically aimed at a young audience. Young potential players, referees, NSOs and fans are growing up as we speak: the more they see of the sport, the likelier they are to check it out. The more normalized derby is, the quicker its spread.  Given the sport's high turnover of players and the sheer crowd of folks you need to run a bout, we need to look forward to encouraging future members of the derby community.

While higher incidences of representations of roller derby in children's programming naturally means taking some bad  (inaccurate, demonizing) along with the good (realistic, encouraging), it's one small duck walk for a cartoon derby player and one giant pegassist for roller derby itself.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Guest Post: A Rogue Skater Manifesto

Today's guest blog post is provided by the amazing Sam "Knuckle Slamwitch" Barr. Sam is the President and one of the founders of of Toronto LOCO Roller Derby. Skating since 2010, she also works in a consulting firm.  She has seen Leonard Cohen live in concert twice and with writing like this, someone should buy her a third ticket. Personally, she is the reason I got into derby and she is my derby hero.

Rogue: A Skater’s Manifesto
1 - We will not overcomplicate things. We will base our decisions on what is easiest, and makes the most amount of sense for the most amount of people.
2 - We will be open to change and improvements. We will not stick with something just because it’s the way we’ve always done it
3 - We will be welcoming to our skaters. Our attitude will never be “where were you last week?” but rather “practice isn’t the same without you, and we’re glad to see you again.”
4 - We will motivate our skaters with positive reinforcement, rather than yelling or unconstructive criticism. We will push each other to work hard and do our best in a positive way.
5 - We will not look to our skaters to be our sole source of funding. When additional funding is needed, we will look to other sources such as sponsorships, fundraisers or donations
6 - We will offer our support in any we can to injured skaters and make sure they know they are still part of the team, whether on skates or on crutches.
7 - We will make ourselves an active, visible part of the community. We will acknowledge that community support is a two-way street. If we want help from the community, we will make ourselves available to help the community back.
8 - We will encourage each other to make healthy choices, but we will not be overly negative or critical when someone slips. We will acknowledge that we are all human.
9 - We will be financially sustainable. While we will not seek to make a profit from the league, we will seek to earn money to grow and improve the league. We will make smart financial decisions and not waste money
10 - We will be honest with ourselves and each other when something about our training is not effective and we will work together to find a better option, whether it be a different practice structure, different drills or different training leadership
11 - We will never use the phrase “real derby.” There is no such thing
12 - We will never assume that someone can’t play derby because of her physical size or shape, athletic ability, race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or other personal traits. The only things that prevent a person from playing derby are injury or a bad attitude.

You can find Sam's original Facebook post here. Until further notice, posts will be once-weekly on Mondays!