The most outrageous form of entertainment of the golden 1970s, roller derby, is back! The skates are laced up, the short shorts are donned, the roller rink is aflame, and the catfights have begun. But instead of disco, punk and heavy metal are the soundtrack to this over-the-top spectacle. Austin’s unique and dazzling form of underground entertainment is put on by a legion of feisty women from all walks of life. A few years back these ladies started skating for fun and found that people loved the idea of roller derby and would pay to see them beat each other up in the rink. Seeing a grass-roots opportunity to resurrect a spectacle sport that died with disco, they organized and started taking it seriously. A flurry of attention ensued, such as a cover story article in Rolling Stone and an A&E TV show.
If you’re feeling brave the best seating is rink-side.Today there are two Austin-based, skater-owned and -operated leagues: Texas Lonestar Rollergirls and Texas Rollergirls. A sampling of team names includes: Hotrod Honeys, Cherry Bombs, Honky Tonk Heartbreakers, Hell Marys, Holy Rollers, and the Texecutioners. With all manner of theatrics, these ladies get dressed up in crazy get-ups composed of fish-net stockings, plaid skirts, and war paint, and take on various personalities, such as Lucille Brawl, Rice Rocket, Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, Cherry Chainsaw, and Dinah-Mite, to name a few.
So what exactly is roller derby? Don’t expect this to be a WWF-style choreographed event. This is real women going in circles at high speeds on skates, knocking each other down to win. In brief, here’s how it works. There are three positions: the pivot sets the pace for the pack and is the last line of defense; blockers try to stop the jammer and knock around the opposing team’s blockers; and the jammer sprints through the pack, scoring points by passing members of the opposing team. The pack starts with a pivot from each team in front, three blockers from each team in the middle, and a jammer from each team in the back. When the whistle blows, the pack takes off, and on a second whistle, the jammers start fighting their way through the pack in an attempt to be named lead jammer. The jammers lap the pack, and when they re-enter the pack they receive one point for each member of the opposing team that they pass. A jam lasts a maximum of two minutes, but the lead jammer has the right to call off the jam at her discretion.
If you’re feeling brave the best seating is rink-side. There are no rails, and very few seats, so plant yourself down on the rink just outside the ring of flashing lights. At rink-side you can get up close to the action, so much so that you can smell the B.O. as it mixes with the smell of popcorn. Always be on guard and keep your eyes on the women on skates. They often crash, wipe out, or barrel off into the crowd. Spacing out even for one moment can cost you your fingers.
The roller derbies take place every spring and summer at Palmer Event Center (900 Barton Springs Rd.) and Austin Convention Center (500 E. Cesar Chavez St). Ticket prices are usually $15 a seat and doors usually open at 6pm. A band always performs at half time. For times and dates and more information check out www.txrollergirls.com and www.txrd.com.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Austin, San Antonio and the Hill Country.