Friday, November 23, 2007

Spills & thrills

Trash and Smash, centre, a blocker for Les Contrabanditas takes out a member of La Racaille at the Montreal Roller Derby. (John Morstad)
More pictures

Don't let their retro-style skates and short skirts fool you. On the rink these roller derby vixens will trash talk and bodycheck their way to the finish. It's fast, rough and dirty - and it's bringing spectators to their feet

From Friday's Globe and Mail

November 23, 2007 at 8:46 AM EST

MONTREAL — The capacity crowd at the Aréna Saint Louis is on its feet. Gliding into a corner, Beater Pan Tease delivers a solid bodycheck that sends her rival, Miss Sassy Craft, tumbling. The felled player rolls forward with bowling-ball intensity, tripping up her fellow competitors as they advance behind her.

The audience roars as, one by one, the skaters lose their balance, crashing into a massive pileup of bodies.

Campy and irreverent, the inaugural season of the all-female Montreal Roller Derby was the summer's cult sporting sensation.

It's part of a resurgence that has crept across North America, with leagues springing up in Canadian cities such as Vancouver, Toronto and Hamilton.

Founded by Concordia University student Alyssa Kwasny (a.k.a. Georgia W. Tush), the MTLRD featured more than 40 women and three teams: La Racaille (Dirt), Les Contrabanditas (Pirates) and Les Filles du Roi, (The King's Prostitutes). With homemade uniforms and old-school roller skates, the players ham it up for the crowd with trash talk and threats of violence.

Add a plethora of spectacular falls and masked wrestlers duking it out between periods, and it's no wonder why Montreal audiences, fuelled on Pabst Blue Ribbon, whooped it up at the derby.

The sport has come a long way since the first event took place in Chicago in August, 1935. The brainchild of movie-theatre mogul Leo Seltzer, the 3,000-mile Transcontinental Roller Derby featured multiple two-person teams racing around a track 11 hours a day for an entire month. When Mr. Seltzer noticed how much spectators enjoyed the collisions and spills, he retooled the derby into the event it resembles today.

Although the roller derby's profile had been in steady decline since the 1970s, the sport has been boosted by Rollergirls, a reality TV show about the Texas Roller Derby League's Lonestar Rollergirls.

As practised in the MTLRD, it's a two-team contest that takes place over three 20-minute periods. Matches feature four "blockers" and one "jammer" per side. Jammers begin the race at the back of the pack and gain points by fighting their way past the opposing team's blockers, whose sole purpose is to push, shove and bodycheck the competition's jammer to the floor.

Zoe Brown, (a.k.a Di Nasty) - a filmmaker and community worker by day and roller derby vixen by night - could barely skate when she first joined Les Filles du Roi. "I was falling around like a helpless four-year-old."

But Ms. Brown now says that she loves competing in front of an arena full of rowdy spectators - despite the risk that she might get hurt.

"I love the speed and adrenaline and look forward to all the hitting and checking," she says. "Competing in the derby is a wonderful way to channel your aggression."


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