May is upon us once again – let the traditions commence. Swing around a Maypole; pig-out at a Memorial Day barbecue; shake your maracas on Cinco de Mayo. Breathe easy, fashionistas: you can wear white again, sans shame. For all you sinners (myself included), the month of May is synonymous with gambling and booze – in the form of the Kentucky Derby and mint juleps, of course. But, a select few (who are tough as blood red-painted nails) know that there’s a new derby tradition hitting the town this month. So ladies, if you’re wearing an oversized hat while daintily sipping a sweet tea, you might want to step aside. Make way for the intrepid and indomitable roller derby girls, as the inaugural Northeast Derby Convention comes to the Rhode Island Convention Center from May 25-27. The event will play host to elite derby trainers and coaches for off-skates seminars, skating clinics (ouch) and scrimmages (double ouch). Attendees can also expect a full vendor expo, games and parties.
These girls don’t play around. With names such as Shelby Bruisin,’ Bust’er Apart, Trophy Knife and SmackGyver, those in the crowd get a hint of what’s to come just by reading the backs of jerseys as the ladies enter the coated concrete skating rink. Speaking of fashion sense, the derby divas keep it interesting with their bold make-up, brightly colored (and patterned) knee socks and a vast array of accessories – some of which are temporary (fishnets) and some of which are not (tattoos). It’s common to see a few facial piercings too, which may seem counter intuitive as the odds of them getting ripped right out are not exactly slim to none. According to local derby girl Cindy Lou Screw, “One of my teammates got hit in the face once and her brand new nose ring got knocked out. She couldn’t find it anywhere. Knowing that the hole would close right up, I took my nose ring out and gave it to her. I call that my ‘true friend moment.’”
Founded in 2004, Providence Roller Derby was the first all-female, flat-track roller derby league in all of New England. Currently, the league practices in Narragansett, with bouts held there, Warwick and in Providence, at the Convention Center. A self-governed non-profit, the league is devoted to positively impacting the lives of their skaters and the community through participation in local events and activities. They encourage teamwork, dedication and the cultivation of each member’s individual talents and strengths.
The Providence league consists of three home teams and two travel teams. Cindy Lou plays on three of those five teams: Killah Bees, The Rhode Island Riveters and the Old Money Honeys (whose tongue-in-cheek motto is, “We play to win, equipped with our best assets: Daddy’s money and Mummy’s attitude”). In order to be a derby girl, one must be not just rugged but dedicated and inordinately hardworking. Practices can be long – four hours sometimes – and frequent in occurrence. Cindy Lou practices several times per week, often with aches and pains that would keep most of us self-relegated to our couches.
East Side resident Rhoda Perdition, who plays on the Riveters and Killah Bees, has been playing with the league since its inception. “I believe I’m one of three remaining East Side skaters,” she says with a laugh. “It used to be a veritable hotbed.” When the league formed, Mob Squad was the only team; that first batch of derby debutantes tended toward Mafia-themed names. Rhoda says, “The Road to Perdition is a graphic novel about Irish American gangsters. I’m a comic book nerd, so it seemed appropriate.” She jokes about her tendency to be verbose: “Retired skater, Da Silva Bullet, once called me Rhoda Perdictionary.” Most skaters choose their names nowadays based on their interests, heroes or favorite TV, movie or book characters.
Most times, each skater’s individual look, “follows the theme of her name,” Rhoda explains. “Jetta Von Diesel has a deep love of German engineering, for example, and often dresses to match the color of her car, even accessorizing with a Volkswagen belt buckle. Craisy Dukes wears jean shorts everywhere, even off the track.” And as for the socks? “Socks are awesome,” she says. “Odds are, you can find socks to reflect your interests, no matter how uncommon. I’m a crazy cat lady – and a nerd – so I have cat socks, socks with nerd glasses on them…I’m holding out for Viking or dragon socks, though, so if you see any, let me know.”
Like Cindy Lou, Rhoda is no stranger to hard work – and being on the injured list. She practices three or four nights per week and spends between 30 and 120 minutes per day in addition to that cross training. Bruises, bumps and cuts are kids’ play to this tough lady warrior. In fact, her worst skating-induced injury thus far has been a broken collarbone. “The hit was legal, and I was cleared to skate again four months later. So, relatively speaking, it was not bad in the spectrum of derby injuries.” Not bad? “Some folks have chronic pain from injuries, or sit out eight months or more.”
That’s the reason Rhoda – and most of the other derby girls – train so hard, and so often. “It’s incredibly important to keep building strong muscles to try and avoid injury,” she says. It’s also important to stay abreast of current trends and research, including proper body mechanics and choosing appropriate safety gear. Hence, the excitement regarding the upcoming derby convention. “I will most definitely be attending,” she says with ferver. “Events like these are few and far between. Nothing on this scale has been offered in our region before. Out west they’ve got Rollercon in Las Vegas, but it’s too expensive and far away for most of our girls to attend. Roller derby, in its current incarnation, is still a relatively young sport, and one thing that makes it special is that we all learn from each other.”
Allie Trela, who is better known as Dee Stortion, is the brain behind the Northeast Derby Convention. Dee owns Bruised Boutique Skate Shop of Nashua, NH – the largest brick and mortar roller derby store in the entire country. “I was told that I never took my roller skates off as a kid,” Dee says, “but I didn’t know I was tough back then. I found out through roller derby that I am a lot tougher than I thought I was.” She’s had her nose broken and was “sort of okay with it.” She’s dislocated and broken a shoulder mid-bout, but returned to the ring to play the rest of the game. “I have pushed myself through… and have come out the other side stronger.” Dee is the poster child for persistence and perseverance. “I think what makes a good derby girl is someone who pushes themselves mentally and physically to grow. Eating right, sleeping enough, practicing, cross training, going to clinics… and treating yourself as an athlete will have profound results on how you perform.”
Dee saw a huge need for a convention here in the East Coast. “We have tournaments, but nothing where we can retreat for three days and learn about everything derby. It’s like derby heaven without all the pressure of tournaments." She’s designed it so that skaters don’t have to stand in lines or pre-register for classes, really “bringing the level of derby up on the East Coast.” It may be held locally, but tickets are being sold all over the world. “Not only should this event help you become a better skater,” she says, “but we’ve also included tons of sponsored games, prizes, events and parties, so it should be a lot of fun too.”
The Northeast Derby Convention 2012 will take place May 25-27 at the Rhode Island Convention Center, 1 Sabin Street, Providence. Tickets are available at Brown Paper Tickets. For more information visit www.derbyconvention.com or email Dee at firstname.lastname@example.org.