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!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Featured League: Pirate City Rollers

Copyright Pirate City Rollers

This blog's featured league hails from New Zealand with roots in the United States. Founded by Dale "Black Dahlia" Rio when she moved to New Zealand in 2006, Pirate City has the excellent distinction of being the world's oldest derby league outside of North America. Running competitive home seasons since 2007, Pirate City is based in Auckland, New Zealand.

Today, Pirate City boasts three teams: Dead Wreckoning, Mascara Massacre and Blackheart Bruisers. According to the Roller Derby New Zealand website, Pirate City is ranked #1 in the country and #4 in the Southern Hemisphere.About half of Team New Zealand (who forever stole my heart by once claiming the title of 'butchest World Cup team' in the Comments section of this blog) in the 2011 Roller Derby World Cup hailed from Pirate City.

Copyright Pirate City Rollers
My favourite thing about Pirate City is the ethos stated on its website that the league offers its support to other nascent leagues. Sometimes in the derby community, the competitive spirit can get the best of us. But the sport spreads best when we lend each other hand, especially across league lines. I'm proud to hear that Pirate City is willing to lend a hook.

Pirate City's bouting season and Freshmeat intake courses are over for the year, but they offer two leveled options for new skaters: the Maiden Voyage casual classes and the Freshmeat course, available to skaters after passing a skills test. Having these two options makes a clear division between non-league skaters paying for training and league members entering the ranks for Fresh Meat training.

Sometimes leagues do not sufficiently clarify the practical differences between being what amounts to a customer paying for training and skate time and being a league-member and/or team-member benefiting from the funds brought in by those league customers. At a practical level, travel teams, for example, sometimes rely on money generated for the league by skaters who only practice or scrimmage and who do not have a place on a league team: these kinds of skaters pull a lot of financial weight for some leagues and they deserve recognition. I hope we can learn from leagues like Pirate City that make those distinctions clear and, I hope, show all their skaters respect for what they contribute to a league's community and finances.

So, please consider roaring a hearty "Arrr!" in honour of Pirate City, Auckland's derby buccaneers. See their website, Facebook and Twitter for more information!

Copyright Pirate City Rollers

Monday, 5 November 2012

If You Leave: Breaking Up with Your League

There are a lot of resources online regarding how to get started in derby, but we don't often discuss how to leave - whether your time with a particular league is over or derby just isn't for you any more, it's important to feel supported and informed in your decision. Consider the following scenarios (and the fact that they often interact) and some suggested DOs and DON'Ts.

"I don't have time to be in a relationship right now": The Schedule Issue

Roller derby can be a huge timesuck and often the amount of time we put in is reflected by what we get out of it. But derby is one of a lot of activities that demand a lot out of us and it's easy to feel overwhelmed. If you find that derby is getting squeezed out of your schedule, consider the following.

DON'T feel ashamed or guilty: any league worth its loaner bin will not guilt-trip or punish you. Leagues should have procedures for enabling community-members to leave and provide as much support for outgoing skaters, referees, coaches or NSOs as they do their incoming ones.
DON'T slink or fade away by degrees. Making a clean, honest break will limit your ability to feel rotten about something that's already hard.
DO be honest about your reasons and keep channels of communication open in case your situation changes and you might want to come back.
DO practice self-care and forgiveness. You might be giving up a big source of community and support, which could leave you feeling vulnerable. Take care of yourself.

"It's not you, it's me. Really": The Amicable Break-up

Whatever your reasons - moving away, permanent injury, or schedule as above - you have to leave the league you love. It will be hard, but it's got to be done. Consider these suggestions.

DON'T find excuses to leave angry. It's tempting to reject the people or things we don't really want to leave to make it easier on ourselves, but it's a wrongheaded approach.
DON'T feel that leaving in whatever capacity you're involved in currently means you can't be involved at all.
DO stay connected. If you're still in the same area, come  out as a fan. If you're farther away, stay in contact using Facebook or email with both the league itself and your friends in the league.
DO take your last lap, whatever that means for you. Whether you take a spin around the track to the applause of your community or get stood a few drinks at the bar, take the chance to end things on a high note, celebrating the relationship you've had.

" Oh, crap": When Things Have Gone Bad

Sometimes we have to leave league-relationships that have gone sour. Whether it's a result of personal or professional conflict, you have to get out of there as quickly and cleanly as possible.

DON'T assume that a conflict with one community-member means a conflict with everyone. Keep important friendships you've made through the community: they'll keep the good memories good.
DON'T get petty. Don't engage with whoever or whatever has made involvement untenable unless there is a legal or ethical issue you *can* have an effect on. And even then, consider whether this would be a healthy use of your time and energy. Your first priority should be your own well-being.
DO celebrate being free from a negative influence. Skate away!
DO be honest, inasmuch as doing so respects your own comfort level. This will be different for everyone, but a well-run league should be able to take seriously your reasons for leaving and act accordingly for the benefit of the community.

Whatever your reasons for leaving a league, keep good memories and habits close to your heart and practice self-care.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Raising the Next Generation: Junior Derby

Junior roller derby makes me happy. I mean, really happy.

Copyright TORD
Last Monday, I NSO'd a juniors low-contact scrimmage and had the most fun I've had at a bout in ages. The players ranged in age from nine to seventeen and had varied skill-levels. And they were dressed as zombies. Whether we were hurriedly gesturing to a skater that they couldn't skate clockwise to the penalty box or cheering on pre-teen jammers, NSOing was a real treat not just because the players were adorable but because the whole event was centered on fun. Players apologized when they got penalties. Parents cheered on their daughters. The (amazing) Juniors head, Bride of BreakinSpine, handed out candy to everyone after the scrimmage. It tasted like a victory for our girls and a victory for derby as a whole.

And low-contact recreational derby isn't the only way to go. Options to play competitively and recreationally, full or low contact should always exist because junior derby isn't just an activity but an opportunity. And the more accessible we make that opportunity, the better we serve our girls. Starting young has a number of benefits: it provides girls with physical activity and helps build healthy habits at a young age. The skaters who start young learn faster and better than many adults could. At this stage in life, junior derby can significantly help raise skaters to the level they'll need to play with adults. Your coach today might be your team-mate tomorrow. Your hero might sit beside you on the bench. If it takes a community to raise a child, a derby community is as good as any.

Even more importantly, junior derby in all its varieties gives girls an opportunity to play in a body-positive, feminist space. If I had had that kind of space when I needed it, who knows how much stronger I would be now?

I have to admit that I lean towards recreational junior derby specifically because it makes it easier to maintain that body-positive, fun space. I've been to hockey games and baseball games where parents hurled abuse at kids who weren't playing perfectly and quite frankly I think we have a responsibility to let kids play without those pressures. Those will certainly come in time and the best we can prepare tomorrow's adults is by letting them be kids for now. Positive play experiences teach kids and they teach us too.

Watching those skaters on Monday I was reminded of what I really love about derby: the self-guided challenge, the roars of support from your team, the positivity and community that roller derby can bring to what used to just be a room. Whatever kind of junior derby they play, we have a lot we can learn from our girls while we teach them, while we prepare them to be the next generation of the sport

Copright JRDA

Thursday, 18 October 2012

No Pack?: Building Community in Derby Leagues

As roller derby grows as a sport, it becomes increasingly obvious that what constitutes a particular league's community is not limited to the players. Leagues attract not only players but referees, officials, and fans. Part of how we can measure a league's health is the strength of its community. Do officials feel welcome? Do less than top-level players feel appreciated? Do referees get respect? It's easy to be socially myopic - because I feel comfortable, everyone must - but as ambassadors of the sport and members of a community, we need to fight to make sure our communities are welcoming and healthy at every level.

It's tempting to wave away community conflict as 'derby drama' or only the problem of those who aren't happy, but that isn't the case. Derby's reliance on strong, committed groups of players, referees, officials and fans means that intra-community outreach is part of the job of keeping a league functional.

So, how do we check and maintain league community health? At one level, encouraging social interaction off the track is essential, but that social interaction has to be varied enough to be accessible. Some folks can't hang around after bouts, others can't make the post-practice beers. It's important to vary the opportunities community-members have to build connections with each other. Try something new with your league: group volunteer opportunities are great for building your league reputation in the larger community, for example. Sign-making parties before bouts are always glittery and excellent.  Casual hangouts on an off-skate night might bring out different groups within the community. But also make sure to encourage different folks to come out: referee and NSO appreciation night at the bar will likely go over well.

In terms of intra-league communications, hosting 'town hall' meetings can be excellent ways of checking in with the mood and needs of the community. Don't just wait for concerns to be voiced spontaneously: create opportunities where opinions and requests are welcomed. It's also important to ensure you have a Skater Representative to be a resource for skaters with ideas or concerns, but the derby community isn't solely made up by skaters. Every member of the community should count if they're going to be depended upon to run bouts, to sell tickets, to keep players on skates and the league in good health.

Other ways of encouraging and checking in with community well-being and needs include maintaining a league messageboard for community-members to use for discussions and encouraging the operation of committees such as social or fundraising committees. Not only will this kind of intra-league cooperation benefit the league directly, but it will also strengthen community-members' investments in each other and the league as a whole.

The bottom line is that it is the responsibility of the league to check in with the folks who keep it running, from referees to officials to players to fans. Don't wait for wheels to get squeaky - practice as much care for your league as you would for your skates and you're less likely to trip up.

Monday, 15 October 2012

On the Hamster Wheel: Penalty Wrangling

This past Saturday, I joined my fellow LOCO folk and headed to New Hamburg to see London's Violet Femmes go up against Durham Region Roller Derby's Atom Smashers. It was great to see my brother Matt, our Head NSO-in-training in action: he's shaping up to be a great resource for the LOCO family. My partner Antonio also jam-timed, looking strangely official in his tie (for comparison, I was wearing a Tool sweatshirt). The arena was bracingly cold, but spirits were high.

To get used to calls and practice recognizing signals, I had my first taste of penalty-wrangling, running after the pack and relaying penalty calls to the two penalty-trackers (Matt and a new volunteer, Adrian). I felt a bit overwhelmed at first - everyone's-yelling-what-number-was-that-who-am-I et cetera. Soon, I adjusted and actually really enjoyed running in circles, writing things down like "W-360-L" and yelling at the wrong tracker even after multiple corrections. It was interesting how I had to consciously choose to watch the refs, rather than the pack (which is pretty attention-grabbing). It was a bit like trying to unfocus your eyes while girls in hot pants dive for your ankles.

I learned a few things yesterday. One is that four-digit numbers are a pain in the ass and they should be made illegal. With refs and NSOs barking and new penalties coming up fast, there isn't time to say "7635". There just isn't and the added numbers up the chance of a mistake being made. On the flipside, officials also need  to be more specific: if a skater's number is 7/8, the officials should establish that this number is properly pronounced as "seven eight", not "seventy eight". Everyone involved in the bout should contribute to its smooth execution, even as early as choosing the number you'll wear.

Most importantly, the skaters seemed to be having a good time and I saw some joking at the jam line, which warms the cockles of my derby heart. Atom Smashers took it home with a score of 223-132, with the Femmes trying to close the gap in the second half.

Afterward, it was time to locate and demolish food, which was done most thoroughly.Then I woke up and it was Monday - surely the sign of a bout well-done.

In other news, two of our skaters made me a ref dress and it it is the best. I will study harder in hopes of earning the right to wear it.

Coming up in future posts: how awesome junior roller derby is and developing a sense of community in your league.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Weekend Update: Not Quite SNL

Often, my blog posts consist of short essays, but as I get my behind to practice more often, it's easier to have relevant personal updates, such as today's. Thanks to some great support from league-mates and a recent opening in my schedule, I've been able to make more time for derby-related activities.

On Friday, I had my first evening in LOCO London's new practice space. Because my anxiety and schedule has often led to me having long stretches off-skate, I often hang out with the new skaters, refreshing the skills and body memory affected by my absences. That night, I finally seem to have mastered the proper T-stop and I've had some promising developments toward my transitions. My most commonly used stop is a kind of wonky snowplow with most of my weight on my right foot and resulting in a slight turn to the left. Given the demands of reffing, mastering the T-stop and transitions are a must and I'm happy to have made some progress. London's more experienced refs often double as skate coaches and they're patient, insightful teachers. Getting back to practice was a sweaty pleasure.

On the following Saturday, LOCO Stratford and Kitchener bouted in New Hamburg, Ontario, painting the town pink and green, supplemented by skaters from other LOCO teams. I had to be in London for a birthday party (my own) but checking out the bout photos after was kind of a thrill. The excellent Joe Mac produces great photos and we look pretty darn good.

Then Sunday happened. I tried skating on Sunday afternoon, but was too sore to keep it up. Naturally, I did what any skater does when it's no longer time to roll. I alternated watching other skaters' techniques and form and looking at my smartphone. Realizing how much I've lost from spending so much time off skate has been difficult. I need to rebuild my ankle strength, get back my balance, and work on my endurance for outside pack reffing just to name a few. I'm looking forward to spending more time on-skate and getting those things back.

It goes to show that you don't have to kick your own ass every time you practice (unless you want to) but that maintaining frequent skate time is crucial to avoiding that slow creep of lost skills and physical condition. The derby-ready body is conditioned by the time we spend on skates. Too much time in your street shoes and you'll have to work to win that body back. Luckily, you've got a team behind you, sometimes coming up at fast speeds.

Upcoming excitement includes continuing to study the ref handbook, a bout on October 13th, and a LOCO skater, NSO and ref clinic in November. It's a good time to be back on wheels.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Ruling the Day: Organizing a Rules Practice and Other Rules Resources

This past Saturday, our fearless refs The Tank and Om Nom Chomsky put together the second of two rules practices organized for the league. The first went over the basic rules of derby in terms of the game's structure and the second focused on penalties. Both referees fielded questions and worked intently to help the league's players understand key details of the game we love.

Some skaters understandably might balk at the idea of a rules practice: there's an assumption that if you play, you must know the rules implicitly. But Saturday particularly was kind of a revelation: multiple times, I heard skaters say variations on "Oh, so that one infraction is pretty much all of my penalties ever. Ah. I see."

Roller derby is a complicated sport and there's no shame in not having things completely figured out, so long as you're trying to learn. The more you know about the game, the smarter you'll be able to play, and the less time you'll spend sitting in the penalty box (as our refs pointed out on Saturday). Not only will your performance improve, but you'll probably have more fun and certainly more skating time.

I've written before regarding how a rules test should be mandatory alongside a skills test to mark skaters as ready to play. But how, as leagues, do we encourage our players to learn? Cracking a book and wading through the rules can be intimidating, but it's essential that we get players to do so and in turn realize that the sport's rulebook isn't just a quagmire of big words and sub-clauses. The rulebook is actually pretty user-friendly, but the trick is helping users to get friendly with it.

Rules practices are godsends to players in need of  some explanation. Getting referees to lead players through the rules and explain them will clear a lot of confusion. Our refs decided to encourage players to obtain their own copies of the rules and follow along. A combination of explanations, questions and clarifications shed a lot of light for players new and old. The cupcakes and cookies probably helped as well. When organizing a rules practice, it's important to stress to players that this is also part of derby, that this is as much an investment in their success as doing pack drills and also to trust your referees to lead the practice. They know their stuff.

Other resource ideas include starting up a league "Ask a Zebra" Facebook page or message-board thread, depending on what kinds of intra-league communications your league primarily uses. LOCO's Ask a Zebra page on Facebook took a little while to get started, but once players realized how useful it was, it's become busy doling out answers that other players can learn from too. Another resource is Roller Derby Rule of the Day, also found on Facebook. Of course the mother lode is WFTDA's Rules page, combining Q&A with PDF resources.

The truth (about roller derby) is out there. Help get it closer to home by making sure your league's skaters have multiple ways to access it, discuss it and learn from it.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Movie Review: Roller Town

Perhaps it's appropriate that my Triumphant Return to this blog after being on a Howard Hughes-like lockdown in my apartment for my first comprehensive exam is to review Nova Scotian comedy troupe Picnicface's Roller Town. Much like my return to the outside world after four hours of writing about literary theory, my exit from the theatre after seeing Roller Town was characterized by feeling a bit sheepish and kind of in need of some clarification of what exactly just happened.

Picnicface's Roller Town is a cheerful, absurdist, shameless parody of something essentially parodic in itself: roller disco. The film tells the story of Leo, the orphaned roller disco king of the film's eponymous roller rink. When his beloved Roller Town is threatened into turning into a video game arcade by the gangster who shot his father, Leo sets out to beat the odds and maybe fall in love along the way. Or maybe the love story starts first. I honestly can't remember and frankly I don't have to. If I remember the glitter and the repeated joke about having sex with corn, I've pretty much got this one down.

Punctuated by short, incredibly shiny musical numbers from the fictional disco trio The Boogaloos, Roller Town is bright, cheerful and sometimes really quite funny. A musical interlude called "It's Fuck O'clock" is perhaps the film's shining moment, which tempts me to suggest you look it up on Youtube and decide whether you want to see a film in which that is the apex of its humour. It's entirely possible that you will.

Perhaps unavoidably, the film proceeds unevenly, going from joke to joke: some are clever and some are cheap. The occasional particularly sexualized joke stands out not because it's especially transgressive or shocking, but because the majority of the film has a kind of innocence that  makes some of the humour seem really out of place, even when these instances are funny. It's hard to hold it against the film because it radiates a kind of benevolent self-satisfaction, a bit like that really nice, quiet stoner you knew in high school. You wonder if maybe they know something you don't, but only briefly.

The film is undeniably fun and elevated by two performances in particular, Kayla Lorette as love interest Julia and Pat Thornton as a dimwitted (but notably not the most dimwitted) gangster, Beef. Lorette's Julia is the closest thing the film has to a straight man figure and her occasional confusion with the general wackiness around her seems to be a bone thrown the audience's way. Thornton's Beef threatens to steal the show, with some of the film's better lines and excellent delivery.

Most of the interest I've heard regarding the film has been through derby-related channels, and while there are a lot of rollerskates onscreen, this is not a derby movie. Watching the skater's upright posture and lack of knee pads - both of which are realistic considering the skating style - actually distracted me from getting into the film. But the film can be a fun outing for league members, with the caveat that several of the folks I went with felt our league CEO owed them $11 for her recommendation of the film. This isn't Whip It, but it's fun.

It's difficult to articulate whether I would generally recommend seeing Roller Town or not. I liked it more upon retelling the plot to my partner than I did immediately upon seeing the film itself. It's not a case of being so bad that it's good, because the film has scenes that are legitimately good in the first place, followed by others that don't hit the mark. I think that viewers who enjoy absurd humour, a plot that in no way takes itself seriously and for bonus points, Canadian content, will enjoy Roller Town..

You just might want to be a little drunk.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Cleaning out the Gear Bag of Life: Some Miscellaneous Derby Notes

Though my official hiatus continues until after my first comprehensive exam for grad school, I thought it was time for a personal update. A viral infection has had me down and delayed my Triumphant Return to watch for elbows at last Friday's scrimmage, but I made it to LOCO's yearly Friends and Family Barbecue. My derby godmother Knuckle Slamwitch visited from Toronto to join us in the eating of grilled meats, hot on the (w)heels of her announcement that LOCO Toronto is up and running. Canada's biggest city, home of several leagues, now has a low-contact, recreational option. Our sport is at its strongest when it gets to benefit from diverse styles and players, so the news is pretty darn exciting.

The barbecue featured many a pair of hot pants and the terrible, dark glory of the Coca Cola cake, which is the tastiest.  Seeing skaters and their families is always a treat. This year had our highest injury quotient yet - cracked ribs, broken wrists, and concussions came out to celebrate another year of LOCO.

The barbecue also marked a goodbye to one of our stars, Atom Bombshell. She's relocating and it's our loss. One of the best things about being part of a league is getting to see skaters grow and seeing them leave is one of the worst. Bombshell's energy, warmth and sense of humour make her as essential off the track as her speed and maneuverability do on the track - any league will be lucky to have her. But, like many of our skaters who had had to move, she always has a derby family with us. We found her first. So there.

Upcoming excitement: rules-oriented practices and less than a month until exams.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

When Anxiety Has a Power Jam: Ecstasy and Derby

In a conversation with my brother Matt, who is in training to be LOCO London's Head NSO, the topic of panic attacks came up. I had been reading a plot summary of a recent film that dealt with the subject of the end of the world and it had started to trigger my panic response. Because of my medication, I don't get as many full-blown panic attacks these days, but they still happen, and the physicality of even the wind-up is pretty intense. (For the sake of clarity, in my experience a high-anxiety period is different from a panic episode.) With my skin getting hot and prickly and with my stomach feeling like the bottom had suddenly dropped out of it, I focused on my breathing and got through without the panic attack really getting going. After a few minutes, I told Matt what had happened and got a bit teary. He told me to be proud of myself, that I had already gotten myself through it ("The T-Rex passed, it didn't see you, you're just shaky from the proximity" was the metaphor he went for), and that the lingering intensity was only that, not a sign that said dinosaur was coming around again. At least not for a while.

What followed was a conversation in which I confessed something I've never even told a therapist. For me, when a panic attack starts up, there is what I've previously felt was an awful, shameful desire to just let it go, to stop fighting and let the panic take control. It's almost a kind of nostalgia for the sheer intensity of the experience, specifically in terms of the loss of self-control, of being eaten up by something that feels bigger and stronger than me, of admitting my weakness and surrendering. Like an ecstasy in the philosophic sense, of being transported outside of yourself, of being swept up in a dionysian mess. Like a making of the choice to lose the power to make choices.

Lest I be unclear about this, a panic attack is not a pleasant thing. My previous attacks have included mixes of intense abdominal pain, feelings of being paralyzed, intense bodily-clenching that feels convulsive, nausea, weeping, the sense I am immediately about to die, and, on a few occasions, an actual flight from whatever room or building I was in, only to realize there was no place to go. My panic attacks have been the worst experiences of my life, which I suspect is why I felt so ashamed to admit to my brother that some part of me just wanted to get to stop fighting and just let all the awful happen. I don't much go in for shame usually, but I was ashamed of myself.

Of course, Matt understood. I wasn't asking for the awful, I wasn't to blame for the panic attack, but I was recognizing a need, one that I think we all have sometimes, to be radically out of control, to throw up our hands and say, "I am not the one who decides". Maintaining control can be so fucking tiring. We go to large-scale events where we get caught up in the emotions of the crowd, we get drunk, we have orgasms. We need to not always be under our own power and we shouldn't be ashamed.

For me, this is where derby comes into the equation. Is donning a pair of skates the same as attending an orgy? Not so much. But the experience of human bodies jostling for position, sometimes at high speed with wheels strapped to their feet, competing before a crowd can be pretty intense. Derby off-skate life also sometimes includes booze and sexual pleasure, let's be honest. My love of roller derby is informed and shaped by my anxiety disorder in less than positive ways, but at the same time, the actual feeling of flying on my skates can be a well-padded way to experience a little bit of that sense of not being totally under my own power without having to go to an ancient Greek theatrical festival. Naturally, the skaters around me rightly expect some maintenance of my own authority, lest I crash into them, but the principle is there.

So, in the final analysis, roller derby gives us a lot of things we need - camaraderie, feminist spaces, adrenaline and the sheer joy of skating at speed. Not bad for the cost of league dues.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Glitter, Glitter, Gone (For Now): Brief Blog Hiatus

Hey readers,

Having recently survived a bout sign-making party, I am still getting glitter off of me, despite multiple showers and what I would describe as intense scrubbing. I must tender my apologies to Guelph's Royal City Rollergirls, as any terrible signs are mine. I considered blaming our Juniors, but they have more style than that.

I am going on a blog hiatus starting today until August  9th, whereupon the derby fun will recommence. During that break, I will be on a family vacation, madly studying for my comprehensive examinations.

In the mean time, read this amazing size-acceptance post by our league president Vansterdamn, who operates a great fat derby blog. It is a call to arms for every skater who has felt that roller derby and being a proud woman of size were incompatible. Vansterdamn herself is a wonderful proponent of size-acceptance and an inspiration for anyone who loves derby.

See you in August!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Book Review: Red Tash's Troll or Derby

So, what happens when roller derby meets fairies, trolls and drug cartels?

Red Tash, formerly Tyra Durden of the Derby City Rollergirls,  could tell you. Her previous novels include This Brilliant Darkness and The Wizard Tales, and this time, she's penned Troll or Derby, a roller derby fantasy novel about a roller skater from the Midwest named Deb and Harlow, a musician who happens to be a troll. Tash takes you from burning meth labs to supermarket aisles to the fairy underworld hidden in the heartland. Smart, fast-paced and constantly changing perspectives and locales, Troll or Derby is a kaleidoscopic page-turner that hits the ground skating.

Tash has a gift for pointing out funny, macabre details and leaves each chapter dangling, keeping the plot going. Like Holly Black's urban fantasy Tithe, but for the rural set or Jim Butcher's Dresden Files for the young skater, Troll or Derby is funny, dark fantasy with a pop culture sensibility. Music has a particular presence in the book, informing both chapter headings and key moments in the plot.

Of the two main characters, Harlow is a particularly engaging narrator, though Deb's perspective takes on added charm the more fairy world and roller derby come to the fore. Dialogue early in the book is occasionally stilted, due to the necessity of building a sense of the text's world.  Deb herself reads almost too cool to be true by the book's end, but ultimately she's balanced by Harlow's tusked, self-deprecating charms. For spoiler-containing considerations of the book's sexual politics, highlight the following: Deb's queer-inflected sexuality, combined with her escape from the clutches of an immensely sexy but irredeemably evil derby wife along with Harlow's love for her reads uncomfortably like a heterosexual rescue arc at first glance. However, upon a second look, Deb and Harlow's relationship seems ultimately more complex than a simple romance and I hope future installments of the story follow through with that.  

But what about the roller derby? Aside from Deb being frequently referred to as 'Roller Deb,' which I  must admit I found a bit grating at first, derby really only comes to the centre of the rink in the final third of the book. When it does, however, it gets it just right. Tash captures the spell of derby in a wonderfully literal way, from the intensity of the derby wife and intra-team relationship to the whirlwind of the sometimes too-hard partying we associate with the derby lifestyle. Tash uses just the right fairy tale trope inflections to make the book's derby scenes stand out. They are just delicious. And it turns out that fairy knee pads stink just as bad as human ones.

All in all, Troll or Derby is hell on wheels. We can only hope for more. Visit to learn more and order your copy.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Bouting Over the Rainbow: LOCO Does London Pride

This upcoming July 28th, LOCO London will be bouting against LOCO Stratford and London's Violet Femmes will be facing off against the Royal City Rollergirls, all in the name of pride. The bout will coincide with London Pride celebrations and proceeds from the bout will go to the London chapter of PFLAG. I've said before that roller derby and queer activism can and should go hand in hand. And I'm am so, so proud that my league is supporting PFLAG.

PFLAG is a treasure. It is on the front lines of community support. It is where confused or scared but loving parents go. It is where friends who are so full of love they want to lend a hand to the community their loved one is part of go. It is where coworkers, educators, clergy and people with questions can go. PFLAG saves lives and families and its existence and success are a testament to the power of love, empathy and community organizing.  Watching members share their stories will make you weep.

PFLAG deserves community support and I hope folks in the London area will join in to enjoy the thrill of the bout and the joy of community involvement. Details below!

Rock the Rainbow
July 28th
Medway Arena,
119 Sherwood Forest Square
London, ON

Doors open at 6:00 pm

Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Roller Derby: The Bout and the Beer

The link between roller derby and beer is a strong one. Pabst Blue Ribbon seems to be the unofficial beer of some derby leagues. Fans drink beer at bouts and make 'beeramids' skaters can crash into from the empty cans. Working the beer table at a bout is like taking your life in your hands. Smart leagues form relationships with local breweries for cross-promotion and bout sales.

And skaters kinda like it. A little. Maybe.

In honour of the beautiful relationship between our sport and (for many) the derby quaff of choice, here are a few derby-themed brews, likely not available in your area, but the next time you're sipping a beer, imagine it's one of these.

Rink Rash derby-themed seasonal beer from the Paradise Creek Brewery in Pullman, Washington in the United States. Produced for the Rolling Hills Derby Dames, this might be the first roller derby beer. Sadly, it seems to only be a seasonal batch for fundraising purposes, expected to last through the summer of 2012, and then it's gone. But it's certainly a start and an inspiration to other leagues interested in joining forces with local breweries and producing beer inspired by the sport which will inspire its consumption.

Also of note is Bogus Brewing of Garden City, Idaho in the States. A community-supported brewery, BB recently raised $30 000 through their Kickstarter campaign. The idea behind Bogus Brewing is very cool - as they say, invest and receive dividends of beer. It's like community-supported agriculture, but that much more awesome. Of their three starter brews, one is Hip Check, a dry India Pale Ale inspired by the Treasure Valley Rollergirls. To keep abreast of the news regarding this cool upstart, check out their Facebook page or Twitter.

Lest we forget the league side of things, I present for your cheering pleasure, the Brewcity  Bruisers Milwaukee Rollergirls and their Beerleaders. Need we say more?

And finally, a 1986 Pabst Blue Ribbon commercial featuring a sport that people seem to think roller derby is like.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Looking at LOCO: Considering a Young Derby League

Officially founded in London, Ontario in 2010, LOCO Roller Derby is a low-cost, low-contact, low-commitment league intended for players who love the sport of derby, but find participating in competitive full-contact derby untenable. I joined LOCO pretty early, in the autumn of 2010. My attendance has been pretty spotty amidst efforts to finish my Master's, start my PhD and handle my anxiety in the almost two years since. At the same time, it's been a bit like seeing a really young cousin sporadically at family events - every time you look they're bigger and more complex.

Starting with original London league, LOCO has since expanded to four chapters, including Stratford, Kitchener, and Brantford. During one of this blog's occasional periods of radio silence, they also added a full-contact chapter, the Violet Femmes. Even more recently, LOCO has starting hosting Juniors practices for skaters under 18. Every time I come back (usually bent from carrying a backpack full of books), it's grown.

It's been tempting to identify personally with LOCO's growth - when I started wobbling across the  gym floor on borrowed skates, LOCO was at a temporary home due to construction at our downtown YMCA. It had a relatively small number of players at practices. It didn't have much contact with other leagues. Now that I'm (finally) reading up on the rules and training as a ref, the league has multiple weekly practices, four chapters, multiple practice venues, several charity events and inter-league bouts under its belt, a huge increase in its membership and all in all, a lot to be proud of. Since I learned to skate backwards, LOCO's been featured in Hit and Miss magazine as well as in newspapers and on television. LOCO isn't just a league - it's a mindset regarding how everyone deserves access to the sport, regardless of schedule, finances or athletic ability. People with the time, money and talent to play full-contact can (and do, still within the league), but the rest of us aren't an after-thought. We're a family.

When I look at this picture on the LOCO website, taken in the league's early days, I see skaters who have moved on to other leagues as the result of moves and skaters who I just haven't seen in person lately or I never got a chance to know. But I also see skaters who have taken breaks from derby and returned, skaters who have continued to volunteer as leaders within the league's administration and, personally, I see a spot for me and for all the players who have joined since that picture was taken.

Naturally, there are places, both literal and metaphorical, that I would love to see LOCO go. I would love to see us have a permanent practice space more directly under our control, providing increased skating time to our league-members. I would love to see us expand to other cities so women who thought roller derby couldn't be a part of their lives can hit the track instead. I would love to see us make more connections with other leagues and build up our in-house teams. We need more referees. We need to find a way to better enable financially-strapped skaters with aid. An online forum for skaters would be sweet. But we're a healthy league powered by a lot of passion. We will find a way to make these things happen.

In the mean time, if you're interested in getting LOCO in your city, check out our organizational structure and master manual, then contact us through the LOCO site.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Rules: For Derby, Not Dating

Naturally, transitioning into a trainee ref has offered me some new perspective on the game. What's come to my attention recently is how we, as lovers of the sport, relate to its actual rules. This will naturally vary from league to league - depending on the league's relationship to WFTDA and/or its level of competition, for example - but there seems to be a widening gap as the game spreads. In our rush to don the fishnets and learn transitions, sometimes we forget the particulars of the rules that shape the sport. Roller derby has a complicated rule-set and media coverage often confuses the issue further, but we owe it to our skaters to have them know the sport they're playing. I don't mean this to suggest skaters don't know the game as a living experience. Skaters know the tension at the jam line, the chasm where we failed to block correctly, the sweat and accidental cross-team boob-grabs (which, er, are illegal) that make up the sport.

But the living experience of derby is based on the foundation of the rules. Rules that every skater should be familiar with, beyond the basics. Knowing the rules allows us to play smarter and have a potentially valid reason when calling a ref an incompetent jack-ass (as occasionally does happen). A standard rule-set and equal familiarity with it is what can let a bout occur between any two teams willing to go toe-stop to toe-stop. And let's not forget that the rules do change and that players should be part of that continuing conversation.

So, how do we address this gap? We educate our players. We explain how the handbook affects their life on the track.We increase dialogue between referees, coaches, NSOs and players. On an official level, we require a rules test alongside a skills test if a player is going to be certified as ready to play. More broadly, we start and support efforts to translate the rule-set into other languages.

We owe it to our players and our sport to know the game we love.  And if you can access this post, you can read the rules.

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Meme Team: Otters and Zebras, Oh My

Today, consider the otter and the zebra, both noble animals. Then you add some derby and you get two of my favourite roller derby memes.

Exhbit the First: Roller Derby Otter

One of the earlier derby memes I ever saw, the roller derby otter's gaze seems to embody the stark horrors, joys and rueful self-awareness associated with derby. Its cousin, the Fresh Meat Otter, specializes in the embarassments of being a new otter on the track.

Exhibit the Second: Roller Derby Zebra

This one's for the referees. This zebra's soulful eyes and clear understanding of the importance of proper safety gear tells the often exhilarating, sometimes soul-crushing story of the derby referee. Let it do an equipment check on you to see if you have a heart. 

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Featured League: Peterborough Roller Derby

Copyright Peterborough Roller Derby

Today's featured league hails not far from the town I did most of my growing up in. A relatively new full-contact league, PRD was founded in January 2011 in Peterborough, Ontario by Lucid Lou of TORD's Death Track Dolls and Falldown Firlotte. Currently sporting two teams, the Electric City Rollers and the Damage Dollz, this league is proof that derby is pretty much taking over the province of Ontario.

Still looking for a permanent home, this young league has marketed itself smartly and is open to all potential players. Players featured on local media so far include Ruby Red Scare, Beady Eye, Charleigh Smashlin, Jane Sleyre, Amelia Diehard, and ConAir. Their smart approach to promotions includes a fantastic logo strongly reminiscent of the logo for Peterborough's local Trent University (attended by my brother and LOCO NSO, Matt Adams). Peterborough is a beautiful city and as luck would have it, PRD's posters are pretty gorgeous too - see some samples in this post. All copyright remains with the creators.

Getting interested in Peterborough Roller Derby at this stage is something of an adventure. They're a relatively young league, but an ambitious and busy one, already having bouted against the West End Waywards Rollerskating Association's Rollergettes, Durham Region Roller Derby's Atom Smashers and LOCO's own Violet Femmes. Upcoming bouts include a meet-up with the Capital City Roller Dolls' Dolly Rogers on July 7th and a bout against the Kingston Derby Girls on August 11th. Get your foot in PRD's door now to see an adolescent league grow up fast.

You can catch Peterborough Roller Derby on their website or their Facebook account. If you're in the Peterborough area, contact them to get involved!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Both Sides Now: Coming Back to Derby as a Referee

Dundee Roller Girls Ref Poster
In the long radio silence of this blog, rather a lot has gone on, including a trip to England and my decision to try derby as a referee rather than a player. My anxiety is quite particular regarding what does and does not freak me out - strangely, making quick decisions and dealing with angry derby girls is not a source of anxiety for me. I know - it's weird. But I've received wonderful support from my league and I have to tip special thanks in the direction of our refs, Tank and Om Nom Chomsky. They have been remarkably supportive and honest about the fact that reffing is hard work.

Perhaps it's bad planning, but I'm restarting a lot of things today. I'm getting back on the studying wagon for my comps exams. I'm restarting this blog. I'm actually trying to get to practice on a Monday. I'm starting my rules studying, which will contrast nicely with all the Plato and Hegel. I'm again trying to unpack my room, which looks rather like an art installation on procrastination and the cardboard box.

But if you're taking one plunge, you may as well really make it count. Reffing is not without its attendant anxieties, of course - I've already had one well-meaning player remind me that female referees sometimes get looked down on for not being players instead, which is a post in its own right. And frankly refs get yelled at by virtue of being refs, pretty much regardless of the sport involved. Derby refs in particular have to know the rules of a very complex game and players, spectators and other officials depend on them to be observant, efficient, judicious, and fair. Reffing is hard work and it's real work. And I will have to discover if I can hack it or not, but I'm excited to give it a try.
TCRG 2010 Ref Poster

And in the mean time, I'll be practicing my ref dance.

Monday, 19 March 2012

First Loves: Choosing Your First Pair of Skates

Rebel Probe $185 from
There comes a time when a fresh meat skater needs to move on from the gear bin (if your league has one). Choosing your first pair of skates is an important rite of passage: the first skates you purchase will be the first ones that will belong to you as they carry you around the rink, as they let you fly.There are a few key categories to consider.

Budget: Give some thought planning out your budget. Are you going to be still skating in six months? Consider how much you're willing to lay down in case derby turns out to not be your thing. If derby turned out to not be for you, would you consider $400 down the hole a waste?

At the same time, if your heart is set on derby and you've been skating for a while on loaners, you may want to invest in a boot that will give you the performance you need.

Don't forget, however, that derby is very rough on skates. Chances are that if you skate at a high level, you will need to replace these. Over time, derby can be a very expensive sport. See if your league has discounts at local shops or online stores.

Used vs New: Luckily, the difference between used and new skates can get you a better quality skate for a cheaper price. New skates are a treat, but used ones have several key benefits. Often you can get a better skate for less; skaters sell off perfectly good skates for all sorts of reasons. My first pair had been sold by a skater who found her skate size had changed after pregnancy. They got me through my first year of skating until I could afford a new pair.
Diablo Flatout $187 from

Used skates also have the benefit of being broken in, if they're leather boots. They won't be broken in for your feet in particular, but you won't have quite the same breaking-in period that a new leather boot will have. That will save you some pain, at least until you have to break in boots of your own.

The bottom line is that used skates can be great for your budget and your nascent derby career. Just be sure to try them out thoroughly; be sure before you buy.

Material and Make:  There are some key differences between vinyl and leather boots and between padded and non-padded.  Vinyl and padded boots tend to avoid the 'breaking-in' period that will cause your feet so much agony, but unlike leather, non-padded boots, they won't conform to such a contoured fit. Obviously, vinyl boots may be preferred by vegan skaters. Ultimately, a leather non-padded boot will give you a gorgeous fit, but it may not be in your budget right now.

Consider your weight when deciding between plates. Nylon plates are better for beginner lighter skates (in this case, those under 200 pounds). Heavier skaters should consider aluminum plates for better support, though you should make sure they don't make your skates feel too heavy.
Riedell 265 $325 from

Also, buy a short boot. A tall boot isn't meant for derby.

Size: Size is key. KNOW YOUR SIZE. Otherwise, you're stuck with skates that will just punish you. Learn by feel and comfort when skating, but also get sized professionally.

Ultimately, trust your gut and get advice from fellow skaters. And buy from derby-owned shops - those places will teach you more about skates than any blog post, except perhaps the Fresh Meat File from Rollergirl.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Featured League: Halifax Roller Derby Association

Copyright HRDA / Artwork by Jason Dirks

Today's featured league is the Halifax Roller Derby Association, hailing from one of Canada's most beautiful cities, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Formed in 2010, this league is relatively new but already making a splash. They played their first bout in June 2011 to a crowd of approximately 700 spectators. Proceeds from the bout went to Feed Nova Scotia, providing a great example of derby's ability to do good. That's pretty amazing progress and sure proof that derby is doing wonderfully in Canada's Atlantic provinces.

An old HRDA logo by Jessika Hepburn,
proving they've been sexy since the start
Today, the HRDA remains Halifax's only women's flat-track derby league. Featuring skaters like founding member Sarah Chaotica, The HellaGonian and former LOCO lovely Chlorine, HRDA has an All-Star / Travel Team, the Halifax Heartless and you can keep up with them through their blog, Twitter or Facebook page.

Particular notable is HRDA's blog, which features writing from their skaters. Other leagues can certainly learn from HRDA's commitment to keeping their skaters so central in the league's public presence.

Ultimately, HRDA is a league that Maritime skaters can feel proud to count among their ranks. A registered not-for-profit organization, HRDA proves that derby can be both bad-ass and benevolent. As the child of Maritimers and a long-time fan of both the province of Nova Scotia and the city of Halifax, I'm proud to see derby in such capable hands there. Long may they roll.

HRDA / Photo Credit Needed

Monday, 12 March 2012

So, You Want To Start a Roller Derby Blog...

As lovers of derby, we have a lot of ways to stay engaged with our sport. But blogging can be a special way of critically engaging with roller derby. Derby's DIY aesthetic is particularly blogging friendly. This sport is powered by human passion and blogging can be a direct way of sharing what you love, what you think, what you absolutely must say about roller derby with the world.

So, here are my top tips for starting and maintaining a derby blog.

My hypnotic type-writer compels you.

The Starting Line

1) Consider your angle. Are you a newbie? A coach? A derby widow? Your specific relation to the sport can provide a fresh angle on derby and will likely draw readers in your position or curious about it to your blog.

2) Be prepared. Get ready with a list of possible topics, ranging from personal essays to bout reviews to possible interview subjects. Have a list to fall back on if you find your creativity flagging (as it may).

3) Focus on your passions. What do you love or hate about derby? What gets you excited or pissed off? Dig deep into what gets your emotions fired up. That's where inspiration comes from.

Keeping Up Your Pace

1) Commit. Publicly commit to a blogging schedule. You can even start small and then increase your writing load. Committing publicly will encourage you to maintain your pace, even if you drop off as I did in the past few weeks.

2) Read other derby blogs. Check out other parts of the conversation online. Respond to them. Reach out to them. If you disagree, do it politely. You are part of a conversation that crosses the world. Get involved and stay involved.

3) Don't be afraid to come back after an absence. The internet can occasionally be a forgiving place. The important thing is to not feel embarrassed or guilty for not blogging. You still have a right to have your say.

Blog on.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Sisters Doin' It For Each Other: Support in Derby

And I'm not talking sports bras.

Recently, I outed myself as having some anxiety issues, especially when it comes to derby. The response since from the other players and the honorary sisters among our refs has been wonderful. Because I asked for specific help, namely help with skills training, I've found myself surrounded by potential coaches, all offering their time and support. Players have offered to help during skates at our local rink and even during practices. I've been really overwhelmed by the generosity of the members of our league, who have proven that derby isn't just about pushing yourself to excel. It's also about helping other skaters do their best.

Asking for help can be tough for any skater. Often we're afraid of looking weak, especially in front of such strong, dedicated people as the ones who choose derby. But luckily those same people are so often so generous. Asking for help is tough, but once we do ask, we have a whole league behind us. And with that many kick-ass skaters coming up behind you, you are a force to be reckoned with.

More generally, I've had skaters approach me to offer personal support off the rink.  I was worried that the other skaters might be put off or uncomfortable after I explained why I sometimes miss practice or leave early. Because anxiety isn't a visible illness, sometimes it's difficult for people to understand. Of course, I forgot to take into account that I'm not the only anxious player and even those skaters who haven't experienced anxiety are willing to try to understand those who have.

For every skater who has offered support, my faith in derby, in LOCO, and the community we're building here in London has been renewed and made all the stronger for it. All I can say to the amazing LOCO community is that I thank-you for every stride I make on the track. For the significant bruises on my rear, however, I will just thank the floor.

So, with all that the skaters of LOCO have given me, I'm going to try to give back by doing my best, by asking for help when I need it, and when finances permit, buying a round at the bar.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Rollerballin': LOCO's Yearly Good Time Social

Photo Credit: Jackie 'Bride of Breakin' Spine' Haycock

Roller derby leagues are known for partying. And LOCO, being a rec league, holds this particular derby tradition in especially high regard. But if there's one special party LOCO goes in for, it's our yearly Rollerball. Rollerball is a derby prom, awards show, graduation ceremony and hootenanny all in one: on Saturday night, we filled the Victoria Tavern basement to the rafters with a live rockabilly band, derby girls in their finest (and in some cases their shortest) and a whole lot of red and black decorations.

Why is Rollerball particularly special? I mean, we party with the least incentive. Why the fuss each February? Rollerball is the night we salute our skaters - not only do we give out awards in categories like Best Jammer, Best Booty and Most Competitive, we also point out how every skater has grown over the past year. On Saturday night, I was utterly delighted to see that the planners had written specialized introductions and ordered skate level (absent but forthcoming) dog tags for every skater, not just the rightful winners of Best Dressed and Favourite Mama Hen. Everyone got their moment. Even the refs.

When not dancing with dangerous abandon with my partner and my LOCO lovelies, I watched the crowd and, rather unusually for me, I was just happy to be in the moment - and it was such a lovely moment with my derby family, constituted by these amazing people all brought together by a sport dedicated to strong women supporting each other. My partner and I had both started the evening a bit anxious, but by the time we tottered to the cab home, my faith in my derby community was reconfirmed, renewed in a wash of glitter, sweat, and love between the folks who support their sport and each other.

And that is why Rollerball is a big deal.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Tripping on the Track: Anxiety and Roller Derby -- Part Two

Last Monday, I asked the question: what is an anxious derby player to do? Obviously I'm no professional, but I can speak from what has and hasn't worked for me.

Totally Off the Track

Deal with the anxiety itself. For some folks, a combination of therapy and medication can do the job. Others prefer to do yoga and eat right. It probably wouldn't hurt to do all four of those things. My point is that if you have anxiety, working with it is a daily process, even on the days you're not exposed to the things that trigger your anxiety. Make sure you're actively engaging with your anxiety off the track and positively reinforcing your efforts because you're doing hard work.

Regarding therapy, if cost is a concern, check to see if your student union, employer or parents have any coverage that can ease the cost. Local hospitals may even have out-patient or group therapy programs that you can participate in at no cost. Check in with your local mental health resources. In my experience, I've had a number of therapists over the last fourteen years of being in and out of counselling and it took a lot of work to find ones that worked for me at the time. Doing goal-oriented cognitive-behavioural therapy has helped me feel more able to intervene when my mood and sense of well-being start to go south. You have a lot of options, however. For Canadian examples, see the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health or the Mental Health Helpline.

Within Your League

First thing's first: be open about your anxiety with your derby family. Don't lie. Being open will take a great deal of the shame and embarrassment out of your anxiety. If that's intimidating, consider telling someone you trust in your league, so you can get their support. Once you share with them, being open with others may seem less scary. Personally, I came out with last Monday's blog post and everyone's been amazing.

Chances are, anyone you tell will do their best to be supportive. But beyond that, letting the anxiety cat out of the bag will better enable your league to help your derby experience by modifying things for your benefit; for example, if you bring it up with your skater rep, there might be an alteration in how practices are structured, if a particular aspect of practice triggers your anxiety. Or if you're feeling behind, ask a fellow skater for extra training. Derby is, at heart, about the skaters. Any league worth its salt will support you.

On Skates

Even if anxiety affects your derby life, you might be fine once you have your quads on. You might not be. Be sure to be open and honest with yourself: don't try to ignore, deny, or rationalize your way out of your feelings. If you're at practice, be at practice - try your best to be present, even if it's difficult. Check in with a derby buddy and when in doubt, take a deep breath and check in with yourself. Ask why you might be reacting a certain way and what the relevant things are that you can and can't change. Above all, practice forgiveness toward yourself.

My Bottom Line

When your anxiety impacts your ability to do an activity you love, it can be unbelievably tough on you. It can be hard to remember that the effort is worth it. But you are worth it. If you are living with anxiety, you are doing something hard and you are being someone brave. You are my hero.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Tripping on the Track: Anxiety and Roller Derby -- Part One

Like many skaters, my derby life is impacted by a medical issue. Unlike a lot of skaters, however, my issue isn't a bad knee or, say, asthma. I've had anxiety issues on and off since childhood but only started treatment in the last year. At the moment, I'm on medication, seeing a therapist and trying to eat well in order to keep my general health in good condition.

Since starting derby, my anxiety has had varying impacts on my experience of the sport. I started derby before I started my medication and that went as well as could be expected. The effects were clearest if I was even a few minutes late to practice. If the clock read 7:01, I wouldn't be able to get out of the car. I would get upset or bargain with myself, but eventually I would just go home. Even on good days, I would have headaches and nausea during the time before practice (something that goes back to my days of Karate for Kids and my dad accurately predicting I would be fine as soon as I got there). And, as my dad predicted years ago, as soon as I got into the YMCA (or went home), the symptoms went away.

As I started medication, this subsided. I still had pre-practice jitters and still felt socially uncomfortable during practice - to this day, I still have trouble shaking the sensation that I make people uncomfortable - but it was livable. For a while, I was getting to practice fairly often. Then again, for a while, I was on tranquilizers.

More recently, though, I've been having trouble again. Because of my academic work (ostensibly), I haven't been making it to practice at all. I tried again on Friday night. I got a ride and managed to stay at practice for about 30 minutes before I broke, cried, and called my partner to ask for a ride home. It was only as I was taking off my gear that I realized that I had been so anxious previously that I hadn't noticed I had forgotten to put on my elbow pads.

I could identify particular things that made me anxious that night: I felt as if I had lost key skills during my time away, which led me to feel too inexperienced to do regular drills and too "old" a skater to get away with doing basic skills training with the fresh meat; I felt embarrassed for staying away so long; I felt dumb for forgetting one of my knee pads; I felt anxious.

In some ways, it really comes down to that last one. On some days it seems like no matter how perfect conditions might be otherwise, my anxiety ramps up and undoes everything. Perhaps the thing I resent most about anxiety is that it takes away the activities you love. And I do love derby. I love it enough to, unusually for a derby girl, face the prospect of throwing up before practice.

So, what's an anxious derby girl to do? Check back on Thursday for some ideas about keeping your derby worries limited to how impossibly good your shorts look.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Business Review: Roller Derby Shirt Club

Today, we're reviewing the recently launched Roller Derby Shirt Club.

What Is It?

The Roller Derby Shirt Club is essentially a "Cheese of the Month" Club but with roller derby shirts. You pay for a 6 or 12 month subscription and get a shirt for every month. Each shirt is based on a logo of a different team. Along with the shirt, you get basic info on the team featured and some small miscellaneous derby merch (company stickers and the like).

How Much Does It Cost?

There's a sliding scale based on where you're ordering from.  The rundown is as follows, courtesy of the Roller Derby Shirt Club's website:
USA: $75 and up for 6 months, $145 and up for 1 year.
CANADA: $85 and up for 6 months, $165 and up for 1 year.
Everywhere else: $95 for 6 months, $185 for 1 year

That does rightly sound like a significant chunk of change, but the price per shirt is really very reasonable. 

What Else Do I Need to Know?

You can update your shirt size and shipping address. They don't seem to do refunds, however, so don't expect that $185 back if you end up not liking the shirts. Leagues and roller derby-related companies can get in touch with them to get involved.

So, Did You Like It?

Yes, but with a few caveats for the potential consumer. Every shirt is sent out at the beginning of the month, so be prepared for a few weeks of waiting if you're a Canadian or International customer. I signed up back in December, so I started with their very first shirt. The shirt arrived, along with an information sheet on the team featured and some stickers and company logo-type stuff that isn't really my bag. The shirt itself featured a cool logo printed on soft cotton. Rather awesomely, RDSC keeps an archive of featured teams and shirts, which I look forward to seeing grow. January was the Rollergirls of the Apocalypse from Germany.

Sizing seems to run a bit small on the shirts, so if you waver between sizes, go for the bigger one. The cotton is nice and soft, but doesn't scream durable, though time will have to tell on that one. RDSC is not for you if you want folks to think you actually got the shirts from the leagues themselves: each shirt features the RDSC logo on the sleeve, so you'll be kept honest.

My initial sizing estimation was off, so I emailed RDSC to change my subsequent shirts to a size up. They got back to me really quickly, so my experience of their customer service so far is very good. I still have a too-tight t-shirt in my closet, but I might either donate it to my league or keep it in case of laundry days or sudden weight loss.

All in all, I'm happy with my  purchase and I'm looking forward to having tiny derby care packages coming my way each month, especially since they'll give me a chance to learn about new leagues. Actually, starting next week, for each shirt I get, I'll post about the team featured. So, in terms of inspiration and sweet derby wear, I feel pretty much covered.