Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Derby is kinda like a love affair. Oh, sure, like all love affairs, it waxes and wanes, but the undercurrent of white hot passion seems to stay inside even past the initial honeymoon phase. Just ask Whip It.

Me? I've been variably infatuated since one crucial moment: When I first walked into Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, with the expectant anticipation of pleasure that comes with the collected works of Tracey Moffatt (that Australian photographic artist with a notoriously ambivalent relationship with critics tendency to label her an ‘indigenous artist’), I had little real idea of what lay ahead of me, it turned out. This day, I had the fortune of being accompanied by a good friend whose usual locale is New York City. And this particular day included in our perambulations of the exhibition space, the entry into a room containing a wonderful surprise - a series of sepia-tinted shots of stills of women in surprising combinations, all roller-skated. At this point, the advantages of having this particular friend of mine in attendance revealed itself – Roller Derby, was what we regarded. Roller Derby had been spreading itself across the States, and a run-through of the bare-bones rules and purpose of the game convinced me quickly that this vital, spectacular, woman-centric, full-contact sport was something I’d be keeping my eye out for here in Australia.

Fast forward a few years, and at least one location change, to Melbourne, and a fortuitous and wonderfully timely stumble across the burgeoning VRDL in 2007. I joined up. The beginnings were glorious, rosy times full of breathless enthusiasm for ebay speedskate packages, long debates about derby names with my then-derby-wife Jazzercise (derby number: &1&2&3…), rides to the Carribean Rollerama in a beautiful old-school baby blue car with bench seats full of ‘what is derby anyway’ chats, and dress-ups. I took on the role of freshie co-ordinator (and had the privilege to teach some of my favourite skaters their first derby skills), sweet-talked my friend Sooz into coming along to a ‘rama session, debuted at the Demo-lition bout (on the winning team)… and then a series of unfortunate events crashed in around me, and suddenly showing up at training to skate my heart out and enjoy some smashing times with other ladies became something I couldn’t stretch to anymore.

It broke my heart a little every session I missed. But I kept volunteering at every bout, and (a bit more recently) taught as many skills as I could to the burgeoning Men’s League, and never stopped writing (yes, I’m a geek) and lecturing about it, and my skates got a bit of wear. Every now and then, my enthusiasm and passion would start to burst from me, and I would attempt to reinsert myself into league training again, but time and again my body and my head would prove it was the wrong timing.

Now it isn’t. Now I’m back, and for the first time, I feel like I might actually be good at a sport for the first time (yoga’s not really a sport, right?). That possibility is incredibly important to me, and how I think of myself, my capacities, and my body. The other day, one of the bouting players said that it was a wonderful thing to see how womens bodies change with derby – thighs bulk out, booties become blocking machines… I can’t wait to see how mine responds. I know I can feel it already, and I have to admit: I’ve got derby to thank for the fact that for the first time ever in my life, I’m looking forward to my jeans being too tight.

Now this kind of DIY women-centric organising gets to be back in my life with a vengence, and I’m focussed on keeping it that way. This means that I have to hold myself back from going to absolutely every session regardless of how I’m feeling, because I want this to be a sustainable part of my life from now on. It means that I’m not giving up riding my pushie, or waitressing that shift, because it turns out that the thigh strength and spacial awareness I gain is invaluable to derby. And the community of women around me keeps me in constant awe of the things that we can do together.

Thanks ladies. See you on the rink.

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