Q & A with a roller derby revivalistby Lindsay Ulrich
Over the last few years, a new sport has been regaining popularity in Toronto: the female-organized, full-contact sport of roller derby. Though incarnations of the sport can be traced as far back as the 1880s, roller derby is most well-known for its cycles of popularity during the 1940s–1970s, where it developed a reputation for over-the-top theatrics. Beginning in Austin City in the early 2000s, the sport has come back from a decades-long hiatus, and this time it’s downplaying the showboating in favour of genuine athleticism. In Toronto there are currently three roller derby leagues, the largest of which is Toronto Roller Derby (ToRD) which regulates itself through the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), the governing body of flat track roller derby.
As Toronto is gearing up for the 2012 season (February to September), I was able to ask Erica Mojzes, a dedicated player of derby, some questions about the sport.
How did you first get involved?
In 2009 the Drew Barrymore/Ellen Page roller derby movie, Whip It, was premiering at TIFF, so ToRD did a promotional bout at Dundas Square. I actually couldn’t make it, but I heard about it, and when I later saw the movie I remembered that there was a league here and I convinced a friend to come with me to the 2009 championship bout between the Gore Gore Rollergirls and the Smoke City Betties. It was basically love at first sight and I signed up to be in the next training group.
On a personal level, what do you get out of the sport?
I think if I were ever to have to leave ToRD, I’d miss the people the most. It’s just an amazing community of women (and a few men) that work together to run this league. So it’s great to be a part of that. People talk a lot about how empowering roller derby is, and that’s also true. We run a business together, and we play what is I think the only sport that truly belongs to women, instead of being like the women’s version of a men’s sport. Roller derby is also constantly evolving, so there’s never a point at which you don’t need to learn anything new. We develop new strategies all the time, so you’re constantly challenged to improve your game.
Do you sustain many injuries? If so, how do you cope with them?
I’ve personally never been injured beyond the standard bruises or strained muscles but I’ve witnessed much worse. I read something once that I thought made a really great point; basically you need to know the difference between being hurt and being injured. Roller derby hurts. It’s a contact sport — we hit each other, we fall down, and it hurts, but you get back up. Injuries are another matter, and it can sometimes be hard to know the difference. But it’s crucial to know when you really are injured, and not to push yourself to keep going until you’ve been cleared by a doctor.
Have you watched older clips of roller derby from the 70s? How do you feel about the evolution of the sport?
I haven’t really seen much of that, although just the other day my friend made me watch the trailer for that Raquel Welch movie, Kansas City Bomber. It was pretty ridiculous. We’re trying really hard these days to separate the public perception of modern roller derby from what people remember from back then. Modern roller derby is a legitimate sport, with a full book of rules and a lot of strategy. I really encourage anyone who ever watched roller derby back then to go out and see a bout now, and see how different it is.
Roller derby seems to have theatrical elements to it — the pseudonyms, the outfits. Do you consider it as part performance?
The names and the outfits are kind of the last holdout of old roller derby, but even those are changing. You see a lot more professional uniforms these days, and it was interesting to see that some players from Team USA played under their real names at the World Cup. We’re kind of dancing a line right now, because on the one hand we want to prove ourselves as athletes but on the other hand the fun of the names and makeup and such is a big draw for our fans. I think as long as the theatricality stays in the image but the game is played seriously, we’ll be all right.
Do you think the sport is on the rise in Canada?
It absolutely is. New leagues are cropping up all over the place; it’s definitely not just in the urban centers. I think as more people get to go to bouts or see coverage in the news, they want to bring it back home with them. It’s fantastic, the more leagues that start up the more teams we have to play against, and that helps the sport to develop.
What advice do you have for people who are interested in trying the sport out?
Go to a bout, or watch derby online. There are a lot of places you can stream live bouts, like DNN (the Derby News Network) or Canuck Derby TV. Find out where your local leagues are, go to a roller rink to learn how to roller skate. It’s a rapidly expanding sport, if there aren’t opportunities make some. Start your own league.
What about people who just want to check out the sport. Where should people get game and ticket info?
Our 2012 season will be on from February to September, you can get more info at torontorollerderby.com. This season is going to be really exciting because we’ll be having a lot of double-headers, so you’ll get to see the home teams play, and then you’ll get to see CN Power or the Bruisers take on another travel team. Lots of derby action at Downsview Park this year.
A short video highlights the basics of the sport.
Check out roller derby for yourself at: