Girls in fishnets on roller skates, going by Garbage Pail Kid worthy aliases like Tara Armov and Gori Spelling and beating each other up -- that's the first impression most people have of roller derby.
Go see Drew Barrymore's directorial debut Whip It this weekend, and you'll start to realize the sport is a little deeper than the bruises.
After the jump--we Whip It good.
A while back, Drew Barrymore was invited by a friend to go check out a L.A. Derby Dolls bout. She fell in love with roller derby and started going to more and more games. Inspired by the splashy colors and characters involved, and the variety of enthusiastic fans cheering in the stands, she knew she wanted to make a movie about it.
From yuppies to old people to alterna-emo boys in the stands, Barrymore says, "No one is not accepted in this arena." She succeds in conveying this message in her big-screen adaptation of the book Derby Girl (by L.A. Derby Dolls skater Shauna Cross). Whip It is a movie about a reluctant teenage beauty pagaent contestant who discovers herself when she straps on her skates. It's a joyous movie about finding the group of people outside your family that sometimes become your family, and that you can be accepted for who you are, bruises and all.
Whip It is Drew Barrymore's love letter to roller derby.
Ms. Barrymore was as authentic as possible when filming this movie, sending the actors to a roller derby camp to learn how to play the sport. "I almost didn't believe I'd be able to learn," Ellen Page says about the experience.
Juliette Lewis is frank about being an inexperienced skater: "A lot of us just wanna do it justice... I can't do it perfect, but I can look the part." Get fast and get low became her mantra as she worked towards her role as Iron Maven, Ellen Page's skating rival. Real roller girls were also cast in major and minor roles; Krissy Krash and the real Iron Maiven from the Derby Dolls' Tough Cookies play the deaf Manson sisters in Whip It, and other derby girls from all over the U.S. can be spotted throughout.
On the next page--okay, the movie looks cool, but what is this sport all about?
Have you seen the '80s Rockin' Rollergames videos on YouTube, or that old Raquel Welch movie Kansas City Bomber? Real live roller derby is nothing like that. No scripts, no gimmicks like alligator pits, this is the real stuff. And on Sat., October 3, you can see for yourself at the next Derby Dolls bout.
Two teams with Halloween-costume inspired themes like this weekend's Tough Cookies (slutty Girl Scouts) vs. Varsity Brawlers (slutty jocks) go head to head in 4 quarters of roller skating carnage. The quarters are broken up into 60 second "jams"--each team has 4 girls skate in a pack around the track, and each team has 1 "jammer" whose job it is to skate through the pack and score points. That's the brief overview; for a more in-depth explanation you can check out the full rules on the L.A. Derby Dolls website.
There's more to a Derby Dolls bout than just four 15-minute quarters, though--these are all out events. Arrive early and give yourself time to stroll through the Vendor Village, an area chock full of tasty treats from fab food vendors like Hot Dog on a Stick, Garage Pizza, Freshly Baked Cookies and La Guera Tamalera.
Skater-owned businesses like Wicked Skatewear and TruLuv Tool Company, as well as Long Beach's Moxi Roller Skates offer up all kinds of roller derby themed merchandise including the brand new Roller Derby Workout dvd, while staple vendor Hoodlums 4 Life offers slightly edgier fare. (Which, incidentally, is way more authentic than the roller derby merch you can score at Hot Topic these days.) Rudechix.com is another great indie business that vends at Derby Dolls bouts on a regular basis, selling underwear with cheeky sayings on them (zing!) along with baby onesies with sayings like "Future Ref" printed across the front.
When you've picked out your brand new tee or silver skate charm, head into the warehouse. My husband Josh loves going to the Doll Factory--this converted ice cream cone factory is home for the Derby Dolls' banked track and the location for their bouts - he says it feels so underground, dark and gritty. Grab your Tecate and find a spot to stand for the National Anthem before the bout - it's usually performed by someone pretty unexpected. Past National Anthem singers include Har Mar Superstar and Sophie Simmons (accompanied by her dad Gene, yes that Gene Simmons, on guitar).
After that, the skating. The glorious skating.
Don't be surprised if you see some chills and spills--roller derby is a full contact sport and the Derby Dolls ain't messin' around. Drew Barrymore sums it up, "Blood, sweat and tears is a metaphor... In derby, it's literal."
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Whip It opens today in theaters everywhere. For more information, visit the movie's website.
For information on the L.A. Derby Dolls and to purchase tickets for their October 3 bout, visit their website.
Wanna see the rest of our pictures from the exhibition bout Monday night? Check em out on Flickr! You can also read my book report about Derby Girl by Shauna Cross here. (Want your own copy? It's been re-released under the title Whip It in bookstores so keep an eye out!)