The Revival of Roller Derby
A pack of women get ready, leaning forward into their stances as if to brace for the momentous surge of the crowd behind them. At the first sound of a harsh buzzer, the women are signaled to advance forward as if their life depends on it. One quickly breaks away from the rest, sprinting in full force until, eventually, every other player is left a lap behind.
by Joanne Xu
No, the above scene does not describe a Reformation sample sale. (Though it very well could. Shudder.) It’s actually how a game of women’s roller derby would likely begin.
In this scenario, the first woman to break away and lap the rest of the pack is known as the jammer — also the only skater that can score for their team in that round. The rest of the team is responsible for keeping the pack together, and subsequently preventing the opposition from breaking apart and blocking the jammer. The Pivot, also known as the pack leader and de facto team captain, keeps their eyes steadily on the jammer ahead, calling out defensive plays left and right.
Since its modern revival in the early 2000s, roller derby has maintained as one of the few women-dominated professional sports. As some put it, the sport has this “third-wave feminist aesthetic” about it — a rugged yet elegant paradox of jabbing and gliding. Though it is a contact sport, the point is less about aggression and brute shows of force, and more so about coordinated teamwork and agility. The jammer relies on the Pivot, the Pivot relies on the team, and so on. Together they make up this glissade of movement, linked and skating in unison.
The coolest part? Each player coins a self-anointed derby name, a pseudonym they use to be identified on the track. Big time players create full personas around their derby name, complete with costume, theatrics, and skate style.
It’s a full on production wrapped inside a rowdy, sweaty, glorious show of recreation — giving the idea of playing sport for “performance” a whole new meaning.
Want to see roller derby in action from a safe distance? Rent Whip It or Hell On Wheels for your next movie night.