Photo COURTESY OF sumnersgraphicsinc – FOTOLIA
Fresh off hosting the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) Championships earlier this month, the Minnesota RollerGirls open their new season on this Saturday at Roy Wilkins Auditorium. League PR Co-Manager Rachel Avenido (derby name: Manila Ice) sees the gig as proof that St. Paul is a true derby contender.
“Hosting WFTDA Championships was a big honor and a lot of fun,” says Avenido. “We were able to show everyone how much we love roller derby here in St. Paul and how great our venue… is for derby. Hopefully more people come back to check out our home bouts this season after seeing [us play in the] champs.”
Formed in 2004, the RollerGirls league consists of four teams: the Atomic Bombshells, the Dagger Dolls, the Garda Belts, and the Rockits, and an All-Star squad has represented the league at several World Championships. After gaining initial popularity in the 1930s, roller derby’s modern resurgence came in the mid-2000s with the formation of WFTDA—of which the RollerGirls are founding members.
In many ways, modern incarnations present a more authentic version than mid-20th century derby. “Roller derby decades ago had staged endings and orchestrated fights to draw in viewers,” sayd Avenido, “but roller derby today is totally real and an even more exciting sport than ever before.” This could be why, along with the sport’s increasing cultural presence through recent film depictions like 2009’s Whip It, modern derby’s popularity continues to rise.
Skaters today also run derby leagues themselves on a volunteer basis, and the RollerGirls are no exception. They are not paid athletes, so oftentimes skaters have day jobs that support their passion for derby. Their passion is matched by their fans’, who come in droves to support what may be considered a countercultural sport.
Roller derby has the distinction of being historically female-dominated, which categorizes it with only a handful of other sports within a stereotypically male-oriented pastime. This distinction, along with its brutal nature and facilitation of strong female relationships, gives it a strong feminist association that skaters embrace.
“Minnesota RollerGirls are made up of women of many ages and body types, and promotes a supportive, inclusive community made up of women who were athletes before roller derby and women who did not have any sports experience or did not see themselves as athletes,” says Avenido. “Many skaters feel more empowered in their day-to-day lives since joining roller derby.”
According to Avenido, this sense of inclusiveness exists both on and off the rink.
“At a Minnesota RollerGirls bout, you can dance at halftime and meet and mingle with your favorite skaters—we love our fans!”