Sport and Spectacle
Albuquerque's roller derby squads roll out a full season, skating faster, hitting harder and thinking strategy
For Kamikaze Kim, team captain of Duke City Derby's Doomsdames, the hitting was the hardest part.
Kim Saito's been in the roller derby for about 10 months. When she started, she could skate. She could play. But the full-contact nature of the game, the brutality of it, was foreign.
“There aren't a lot of contact sports out there for women, so that took a while to get comfortable with,” Saito says. “Basically, it's a lot of bodychecking.”
In the game, you can use only the side of your body to knock against opponents, she says, and you can only hit the side of someone's body from the hip to the shoulder.
Well, you can also hit their front. And although you're not supposed to hit them from behind, it happens.
“You can't grab someone and take them down,” Saito explains.
That happens, too. But it's not encouraged.
A fractured heel, a leg broken in three places, a couple handfuls of sprains and pulls, and one exhibition season later, the women of Albuquerque's derby are ready to get to work. Duke City Derby, who played their first season last fall, drew enough new players last year to make three teams: Doomsdames, the Derby Intelligence Agency and the Ho-bots. They're facing a regular season of six hometown games and a championship game, with away games scattered throughout. The Munecas Muertas ("Dead Dolls" in English) are the cream of Albuquerque's crop, 13 rollers from all three crews sent to battle sister teams in other cities.
Most teams in the country today play “flat-track” derby, and the banked track of the '70s is long gone. At February's Dust Devil Invitational in Tuscon, the first national flat-track tourney, Albuquerque's infant league was punished—and inspired. Though the Munecas came in 19th out of 20, they played against skaters that roll on another level of competition.
“After watching some of them, I felt like I didn't deserve to wear skates anymore,” says Michela Dai Zovi, or Dahmernatrix, captain of the Ho-bots. At first, she says, Duke City Derby was just about girls beating the crap out of each other. But after seeing those teams play harder, smarter and faster, “we're thinking strategy,” she says.
“People are trying to turn this into a legitimate sport and still trying to maintain a spectacle atmosphere,” Dai Zovi says. “You see the really good teams playing, and you can't deny that this is a real sport, but they still have names like 'Knockahodown.' ”
The physicality of roller derby is part of what creates the tension between spectacle and sport, says Nan Morningstar, also known as Molotov Cocktease, who founded the Duke City Derby with her husband, John.
“Roller derby is a very physical sport that women play,” she says. “For many people, that's such an unusual sight. They're not sure if it's real.” The contact level, she says, is somewhere between soccer and hockey, and it's fantastic for women.
“A lot of girls are not given the option to play a full-contact sport,” Morningstar says. “I think it's nice to play a sport where you get to be aggressive, where you get to play hard and hit hard. Women aren't often offered that opportunity, so I think it's incredibly good for girls to see.”
There's some debate, too, about whether the derby is anti-feminist, says Dai Zovi.
“People say, 'There's short skirts; you know, designed for the male gaze.' But these are girls who never thought they were athletes before, and they own their identity.”
Everywhere the Albuquerque derby travels, Dai Zovi says, when you meet a derby girl, she's just like all the other ones in your town. The Duke City Derby has joined up with the Women's Flat Track Derby Association, made up of 45 cities that play by the same game rules, making it easier for teams to face off. In two months, a meeting in Minneapolis, Minn., will finalize the bylaws.
But the Duke City Derby's home is still at Midnight Rodeo, and the interior has been redone for easier derby viewing this season. Morningstar advises new fans to keep their eye on the jammers, the skaters racing each other around the track. The defensemen (sic) are the bruisers trying to impede the progress of their opponent's jammer.
What's Morningstar looking forward to most this season?
“The championship game. I want to be in it. I don't like losing.”