Blood, Sweat and Beers: Roller Derby in Mile End
MP alumnus Meg Hewings wrote an article in the Gazette not too long ago about the trials of the NWHL, the fledgling women's elite-level hockey league, which can't pay its players, struggles for sponsorship, and has sparse crowds in spite of the calibre of play. So why is the Montreal Roller Derby League (MTLRD) able to cram legions of rowdy fans into its events?
I submit that there are three answers to this question: First, the organizers have a great grasp of the concepts of spectacle and performance. Second, beer is sold for $2.50 a can. Third, there's something about women in miniskirts teetering on roller skates and delivering bone-crushing bodychecks that seems to appeal to a broad demographic.
Indeed, the event on Saturday evening, which featured three teams (La Racaille, Les Filles du Roi and Contrabanditas), had some random arena in the sketchy warehouse/railway tracks region of eastern Mile End filled with people. I'd been led to understand that roller derby is big in some lesbian circles, and this may be true, but the crowd was totally random. Hipsters, emo teens from the South Shore, families, nerds -- I defy someone to categorize it accurately.
I don't think "roller derby fans" would be accurate, by the way. Most of the people sitting around me were as confused about what was going on as I was. Or, at least, much more interested in big collisions than in the nuances of the game. The rules are pretty simple: your team gets points when one pre-designated skater (roller?) passes members of the other team, who are jostling with members of your own team and trying to knock you down, while also trying to make room for their own pre-designated skater/roller to pass your teammates. But as soon as someone gets shouldered off balance and crashes into the concrete, who's paying attention to the rest of the action?
Regardless, it was extremely entertaining. There's a range of roller-skating skill on the teams, but it's almost as fun to watch a neophyte wobble around (and inevitably get knocked to the ground) as it is to watch one of the talented skaters dart through the pack. Many of the athletes' pseudonyms are pretty funny (e.g., Georgia W. Tush). Local drag hero Plastic Patrick hosted the event, a good portion of the Guns N' Roses catalog was played, a couple of pasty, doughy luchadors fake-wrestled between games, and enough cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon were consumed to build pyramids taller than some of the kids in the stands.
I have no idea which team won. And I'm pretty sure that doesn't matter.