I had never seen roller derby and, quite frankly, didn't even know that it still existed. I had the (obviously mistaken) impression that roller derby was the female version of professional wrestling and that it died out at some point in the 1970s.
As it turns out, roller derby is alive and well, and in Indianapolis, the Circle City Derby Girls do a great job of blending athleticism with showmanship and family entertainment. Yes, family entertainment.
These are not surgically enhanced 20-somethings wearing as little clothing as possible and engaging in the stereotypical "chick fight" that guys fantasize about. No, these are normal, everyday women of widely ranging ages and body types with normal, everyday jobs and lives who simply like to get together every now and then, take on the persona of humorously-named characters, dress up in fishnet stockings and hot pants, put on outrageous makeup, strap on a pair of roller skates, and beat the hell out of each other. It kind of reminds me of Fight Club, except that people talk about it.
Basically, the skater with the star on her helmet--called the jammer--tries to pass as many opponents as possible, gaining a point for her team with every opponent she slips past while everyone skates in a big circle. The jammer has four blockers who simultaneously try to clear a path for her while also preventing the other team's jammer from scoring points and the other team's blockers from crushing their jammer. The blockers accomplish this through hip checks, booty shots, body blows, and shoulder thrusts into each other at high speeds. On wheels. On a concrete floor.
The ensuing mayhem is a total blast to watch. Make no mistake: this is a real sport. This is not scripted, there are rules (which I don't fully understand yet) enforced by referees, there is clearly strategy being employed by both teams, the sport requires both finesse and stamina, and the injuries are certainly not staged. The Circle City Derby Girls have an entire photo gallery dedicated to the especially "colorful" injuries that these women suffer. In the bout we watched, one skater's night ended prematurely and with her arm in a sling.
They all look like they're having a lot of fun.
Best of all, they do it all without any "wardrobe malfunctions." I saw nothing all evening that made me regret bringing my young daughters to the bout. In fact, they were both mesmerized by the Derby Girls and the action, and they were both still talking about it the next day.
One of my favorite aspects of the evening was all the interaction between the skaters and the fans. One Derby Girl, Philly Cheezskate, helped the birthday party hostess carry in the party supplies from the parking lot. Two more, including Dread Pirate Roberta, stopped by the birthday celebration with party favors, chatted with all the girls, posed for photos, and thanked us all for coming to watch them.
When my four-year-old blurted out after the bout that she recognized Dread Pirate Roberta from the party, Roberta overheard her and took the time to approach her, high-five her, ask her if she enjoyed herself, and thank her for watching. My daughter absolutely loved it.
Before and after each bout, fans can surround the rink, and the derby girls will skate by and high-five all the outstretched hands. My kids got a big kick out of every skater who slapped their hands.
During one of my trips to the concessions stand, Guano Loco stopped me in the lobby and commented on the Batman t-shirt I was wearing. She loves Batman, too. She thanked me for wearing it and for coming to the bout.
I saw lots of skaters signing lots of autographs for lots of kids all night long, and it was always done with a great big smile on the Derby Girl's face (which, in turn, produced a smile on the face of the child), conversation with the fan, and a big thank you.
It was a lot of fun, and because the Derby Girls blended athleticism, showmanship, and family-friendly entertainment together so seamlessly, we can't wait to go back. They play their home bouts at the Forum at Fishers, Ind., and tickets are only $10 a piece when purchased in advance ($12 a piece at the door). Children ages 6 and under are free. So for just $20, we can take our entire family to a Circle City Derby Girls bout and enjoy a great evening.
Check their schedule and find a date that works for you to check them out. It's an experience that you have to attend in person to fully appreciate. And who knows ... you might wind up like me, discovering that you're a roller derby fan and didn't even know it.