Have you seen the movie Whip It? Did you see the TV broadcasts of U.S. roller derby bouts in the late 1970s? If so, you may be happy to hear Melbourne has its own roller derby league. Roller derby is a fast-paced, action-packed sport for women; women who give the distinct impression they are confident, fit and unafraid of the odd bit of on-track aggression or eye makeup. Before attending my first bout, I had no idea what to expect – would it be a family-friendly sport event or an over-the-top staged show disguised as a pseudo-sport?
It's true - roller derby is as much about entertaining the crowd as it is about sport. The sportswomen have character names and modify their team uniforms for a unique touch. Think fishnets, tutus and tattoos – not the conservative sports uniforms we expect to see on our athletes. Even the referees have quirky names. Team playlists and info sheets are available on the night to help you make sense of the action and get to know the players. For more information on roller derby, read this WeekendNotes article.
Held monthly at the Melbourne Showgrounds, roller derby bouts are a great night out for spectators. An energetic mix of music competes with the male MC to get the crowd going. When I attended, the crowd was quite diverse; families, older people, young adults (some with a distinct "alternative" vibe) were all represented. Some people brought a picnic rug or cushion and shared picnics by the track. Others stood on platforms and chairs at a safer distance from the action. There was a range of fast foods (including vegie burgers, beer and 'real' coffee) available for purchase. There was a strong crowd, without that feeling of being too crowded.
I was impressed with the sportsmanship displayed on the night. There are usually 2 games played at a bout. At the end of each game, audience members can line the track as the 2 teams complete a lap of honour. For a sport that is so famously aggressive, it was great to see the teams acknowledging and congratulating each other at the end. Allowing the crowd to interact with the players was also fun; as roller derby continues to take off in Melbourne I wonder how much longer this can continue.
So, would I recommend roller derby for families? Definitely. The players are great role models for young people; showing that women who don't fit our usual image of sportswomen are also engaging in physical activity in a really positive way. I left feeling inspired to get out the skates and do some (sedate) laps. I'm looking forward to attending another bout – and inviting friends of all ages to join me.