Regularly referred to as the fastest growing sport in the world, Roller Derby brings together conjunctions of contact and conflict, and the contact of hospitality and community that global movement brings. This presentation takes my own embedded and physical experience of Victorian (Australian) Roller Derby in the Victorian Roller Derby League (VRDL), and examines it in this light.
Roller Derby’s most recent incarnation has subcultural leanings towards and roots in rockabilly, punk and skate culture. Its main support base draws from these groups – be they skaters, referees, trainers or audiences and advocates. It takes a D.I.Y. aesthetic from the community that is the only force to keep it in motion – from the use of open access online resources between leagues; the adaptation of the traditional banked track to the flat track (which has more appeal to the under-resourced); the acknowledged variances of rules across leagues and place.
Starting at the ‘mythology’ surrounding its revivification, through its portrayal in the documentary Hell on Wheels (2007) and then to encounter with one of the rollergirls from the original Austin, Texas league, Roller Derby is examined for the ways in which the tensions between contact and conflict have shaped the formation of its community.
The conjunctions of contact, conflict and community and hospitality in Roller Derby come together best perhaps in established expectations of care and welcome for any rollergirl in a ‘strange’ city with an established league - from a bed for a night, to friends and derby ‘wives’ for a lifetime, or trainers and rivals. The women who play roller derby know bodily how contact and conflict sit in tension – better to ‘block’ a Derby friend than an enemy.