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