About a year and a half ago, I began my roller derby journey. Since then, I’ve told tons of people about this amazing sport, and I’ve consistently gotten one comment that has driven me a bit nuts. Inevitably after mentioning roller derby, someone will say something like, “I wouldn’t have guessed that you play roller derby” or “...but you don’t look like a roller derby player.”
I can only assume that people are trying to be polite and say that I seem so nice and genteel that they would never guess that I would engage in any activity that involved hitting someone. Even my mother and stepdad said this to me. After watching me compete in sports growing up, competing in triathlons, and running marathons, I still remain their “little porcelain doll.” To their credit, last time I was visiting, they told me they are really impressed that I play roller derby, and my heart grew three sizes that day.
I’ve learned that people have a lot of preconceived notions and stereotypes about roller derby and the people who play it. Roller derby in the 1970s and '80s was very scripted, and much like the WWE had fake fighting for entertainment. Today’s roller derby is VERY different. The players are athletic, and it’s an actual sport with rules and regulations. We don’t have to dress up in skirts and fishnets to get people to come watch a bout. Of course, if we want to wear skirts and fishnets we can because we are modern women who are secure in our sexuality, but we don’t exploit it for roller derby. Instead, we are playing a sport, being athletic, and celebrating the strength, agility, and endurance we have built during countless hours of training.
Modern roller derby faces its own stereotypes of being a sport where the participants are lesbians, feminists, tattooed, have bad attitudes, and love to fight. Aspects of those stereotypes are present in the sport, but they in no way encompass the full spectrum of derby culture. As for me, I’m straight, have one tattoo, am a feminist (because duh equality), and am generally optimistic about life. I still enjoy hitting people while playing roller derby, but I’ve never been in a fight. Roller derby does attract many LGBTQIA+ people, because it’s an accepting community that doesn’t judge you on something like gender identity or sexual orientation, and instead is focused on the sport and camaraderie.
Here’s the lowdown on our league in Ann Arbor: We are an ambitious group of students, scientists, artists, mothers, academics, and engineers, amongst many other things. We are athletes that span multiple generations, from 20-year-olds to 50somethings. There are people who didn’t really do athletic things before derby, and those who are very physically active. We defy age, gender, and body size stereotypes. (In addition to learning more factoids about our members on our Recruitment page, you can see great examples of roller derby players defying all stereotypes and being awesome in The Rollergirl Project.)
Anyone can play roller derby, so don’t let your preconceived notions hold you back from trying something new. Are you interested in getting involved? Ann Arbor’s annual boot camp starts Wednesday, September 7! Come learn how to skate and play the most empowering sport I’ve ever experienced.
Bank skater Arya Snark is a scientist, a runner, a reader, and a dog snuggler. She likes Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire, a good BBC mystery show, and oxford commas.