This weekend I witnessed my first roller derby bout, a mixer with members of Mississippi Valley Mayhem and the Chocolate City Cherry Bombers at the High Roller in La Crosse, WI. Wow.
Recently several friends have become interested in the contact sport on roller skates. It’s one I know little about. My little sister used to watch it in the early 2000s. I think she tossed around the thought of participating at one time (for the record, I think she would have been an awesome derby girl).
So when it worked out that I would be going to La Crosse for a reading/book signing, I wanted to make sure that it was during a time when I could watch my lovely friend “Maura Tyranny” Henn (of Mississippi Valley Mayhem) in a bout.
We arrived at the rink on Sunday evening and took our suicide seats on the rink floor, while the photographer-types among us wandered around and captured amazing shots like these (follow the link).
A tiny pixie of a woman with a giant heart and spirit, Maura was incredible. I’ll admit to being more than a little concerned about all the falling and blocking, but she sprang back up quickly and sped around with confidence.
I was happy to have the ear of my friend Linda (onesockshort) who so kindly explained a few early strategies and answered questions. I was also grateful for the instruction on derby basics I had received a few weeks prior from another friend, derby coach Andrea (Thank you!)
We watched as the teams stretched and skated around in their colorful attire, and we had a great conversation about the appeal of derby and the positive attitude it conveys about body image and health and sport (something increasingly rare in this day and age).
Certainly that’s part of the appeal: a place where women can express themselves in all manner of tutus, t-shirts, and tights. It’s a sport where they can bond with their team and their fans, where they can be strong and sexy, creative and nimble. Their fashions are fun and outside all the boxes; the names are clever and full of allusions to literature, music, pop culture, movies. These are smart, savy women, and I wish I had had more time to talk with them after the bout. Next time.
(For those interested in the nuances and rules of roller derby, the WFTDA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) website has rules and pretty diagrams.)
The bout started off slowly (which was good for a beginner like me) and soon picked up speed. Maura’s team for the night was the “Blarney Stones” and after being behind in the first half, they sprang forward in the second half to win the bout! I’m not really a sports fan by nature (I never really get into the various ball games), but that second half derby bout was one of the most exciting sporting events I’ve ever witnessed!
After the bout we went to a party at Yesterdaze in downtown La Crosse, where we watched exhausted but exhilarated derby girls and their fans chilling out after the game. We also wanted to see the tables at Yesterdaze, sculpted by Maura’s incredibly talented partner, the artist Ethan Schandelmeier.
The bar was was dark and crowded, but you can get an idea of these incredible sculptured tables, reminiscent of H.R. Giger and Fuchs. I first met Ethan at the American Gods House on the Rock event with Neil Gaiman last fall, and I liked Ethan immediately. It’s been a joy getting to know him better. He is definitely an artist to watch!
We went back to the Metal House for coffee, local treats, and to watch Whip It. In the morning, we bid farewell to Maura and Ethan and drove out of La Crosse, back to Chicago.
I have a feeling we’ll be back.***