Space suits, pink leotards, and townie wear. Add roller skates and a scowl, and you have a Boston Derby Dame. More than 50 women skate for the three teams that make up the Dames’ local league — teams gleefully known as the Cosmonaughties, the Nutcrackers, and the Wicked Pissahs — all wearing uniforms as sassy as their attitudes.
Roller derby is not a complicated sport. Teams race around an indoor track on old-style quad (not inline) skates, pushing, shoving, and hitting one another along the way in full-bore attempts to lap the competition. A DJ spins, the women collide, and a crowd of more than 1000 cheers, boos, and catcalls. It’s pure spectacle.
But this is not the sport your mother grew up with.
Roller derby is enjoying something of a renaissance after being saddled with a bad rep as a “fake sport,” à la professional wrestling, back in the ’70s, when it was first broadcast on prime-time television. In those days, there were lots of thrills and physical contact, though the emphasis was on story lines, and winners were often predetermined.
“It’s different now,” says Cosmonaughtie Claire D. Way. “We’re athletes. We take risks and put our bodies in the way of real harm.”
Since 2001, the sport has been revived in a grassroots fashion by small, independent, player-owned-and-operated all-female leagues. Approximately 48 local leagues now operate under the umbrella of the nonprofit Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), formed in 2004. And the sport is still growing. When the Dames launched their first season two years ago, they had just 10 players.
Each Dame has her own cheeky rink name — everything from Pussy Venom to Tootsie Pop — and corresponding persona, awarded by the league once she’s proven her abilities and dedication. “Receiving your name is a real rite of passage for a player,” Dame Eva McCloskey, a/k/a Evilicious, a member of the townie-inspired Wicked Pissahs, tells the Phoenix in a throaty voice. (She’s currently at home with 30 stitches in her face and a nose broken in four places, souvenirs of her last competition.) “It means you’ve solidified your membership in the league.”
The Dames practice four times a week and do their own fundraising. A standard bout, or competition, involves 60 minutes of fervent, full-contact play, controlled by referees who enforce a stringent, if minimal, set of rules. One of them: no biting. Still, that doesn’t prohibit grinding a player from New York City’s Bronx Gridlock into the floor.
Which is exactly what the Derby Dames’ all-star travel team, the Boston Massacre, intends to do at the upcoming double-header national competition this Saturday.
“This is a big game for us because of the tradition of rivalry between Boston and New York,” explains Evilicious.
The Massacre will don military tank tops and ruffled bottoms for the bout, bellowing their battle cry, “Pack up if by land, check block if by sea!”
This past season, the Dames’ all-stars annihilated more than a few teams to finish 14th in the nation and eighth in the Eastern region in the WFTDA standings. Their last bout was attended by more than 1600 frenzied fans.
“The skill level will be top notch, higher than we’ve seen all season,” says Massacre captain Way. “Players from all three teams will unite to pick on the girls from Gridlock.”