Saturday, May 21, 2011

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Falling Down

I'm in the gray shirt, on the right, behind the woman in purple.
So, October.  I tried out for Roller Derby.

For a couple of precious days, it was really exciting.  I psyched myself up to do it, even though I hadn't skated since grade school, even though I was out of shape, and even though I didn't own a single thing with skulls on it.  The tryout announcement said "no experience needed," so I decided to go with that, and not be intimidated by the skills tests I was reading online.  I checked with the organizers, and they seemed friendly enough.  I even checked with Ravelry's roller derby about the no-skulls thing, and received reassurance.

It's hard to see in the pictures, but the Dr. Seuss "One Fish Two Fish" T-shirt was the most ironic bad-ass thing I owned.  I believe I broke out the pink cammo "Boot Camp for Socks" for the other night.  Oh, yeah, I was ready for this.....

That first night - an optional practice - was surprising and educational and scary and fun.  When I showed up at the door I was welcomed, rather than being greeted with confusion or some sort of "are you sure you want to be here?  Did you know this is roller derby?" remark.  I remembered how to skate, which wasn't a given.  And best of all, I learned how to stop on skates - something I'd never learned in all my years of occasional recreational roller, ice, and inline skating.  (Bumping into a wall usually worked.  For the inline skates, I always wore knee pads and just looked for grass to fall on, or a fence to grab.)  So I got my $7 worth out of the evening regardless of how the tryouts went, as stopping moving forward is definitely a useful skill!

I had a little bit of hope for the second night.  I sort of got the skills - not well, but I made a brave attempt.  I was touched by the willingness of the skaters to work with us, individually, on the various skills, and the general level of friendliness.  I was stunned by the nerve of people who would stand on a slick gym floor and say "OK, skate towards me, then stop."   And I had fun.  I was tired and flagging by the end of the night, but I had fun.  I thought that maybe, just maybe, I had a chance - if determination, nonprofit work, or a sports history background could substitute for skating skill.

As it turned out, the MissFits preferred skating skill.  I didn't make the team.  Friends and family (most of the family, anyway) cried out in facebook disappointment on my behalf.  But I wasn't really surprised, since there were obviously many better skaters than me.  I was just really, really sad.   The more I learned about derby, the more I wanted to do it.  And now I couldn't.

The e-mail encouraged me to come to future tryouts, and suggested I volunteer with the team in the meantime.  I thought that sounded fun, so made tentative plans.  A few days later I was at a local restaurant and heard someone say "hey, weren't you at roller derby tryouts?"   One of the servers turned out to be one of the skaters, who said, "did you get that bruise from skating?  cool!"  (I did, but only because I was screwing around trying to stand on my toes and fell backwards into a metal staircase.  But that story isn't as cool.)  I have never in my life felt so absolutely cool as I did at that moment - to be recognized from roller be recognized by a derby skater after tryouts.  The friend with me thought it was great.  And after something like that, how could I possibly give up trying?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Did I Miss Something?

By this time, anyone who's known me for awhile is probably looking closely at the pictures trying to figure out if they're really reading the right blog.  "Laura?  Roller Derby?  A SPORT?!?!"  Those who have known me for a long while are sure there's some confusion and that this cannot be my blog.  Even my doctor thought something was seriously wrong when I mentioned roller derby, and wondered if I was exhibiting Dangerous Impulsive Behavior.  Seriously.

This is me at seven.  I was not what one might describe as "athletic".  Nor was I what is commonly called "cool".  It was about this time that I, the shortest person in the class, paired up for the three-legged race with a friend who even then had the build of a blocker.  We - or at least she- took off running, and I tried to keep up.  She grabbed me and tried to carry me beside her as I hopped on the foot that was tied to hers.  Eventually the old nylons that tied us together broke and she ran across the finish line while I rolled across the racecourse.  Alas, we only received the consolation "good sportsmanship" ribbons that were distributed to all the losers - there was no special award for the funniest race.  That was the last time I remember wanting to compete in something, and the last time I remember being at all entertaining to a crowd.

It did not get better.  As school went on, I became untroubled by friends to partner with, and I stayed short and slow.  You know the cliche about the kid who always gets picked last for the team?  That was me.  Between Mean Girls armed with wooden machetes in grade school and enforced short-short wearing by the faculty perv in high school, I hated gym classes with undying passion.  I finally figured out how to avoid field days by hiding behind shrubbery - crouching on gravel under a boxwood was easily preferable to a 1,000-meter run as far as I was concerned.

So I got through the rest of high school and college without any sporting activity, after eliminating from consideration any schools that had a physical education requirement or active orientation.  Somewhere in adulthood I lost the metabolism that kept me at 90 pounds no matter what, but didn't worry too much about that.  I took kickboxing lessons for awhile, but the studio got bulldozed and turned into tacky condos.  I joined the Society for Creative Anachronism with the intent of taking up fighting, but armor was expensive and I became more enamored with the crafty stuff.  I'd stopped actively avoiding sports, but I didn't have to anymore, since they weren't trying to drag me out of my hiding place in the boxwood.

Then I read about roller derby.  A few years ago, Indianapolis Monthly ran an article about the Naptown Roller Girls, and made roller derby sound like a heck of a lot of fun.  It wasn't that much of a stretch - my older sister played hockey when I was a little kid, and I'd long thought that if I were going to play a sport, it might as well be something seriously aggressive.  I lived in Lafayette - home of the Brawlin Dolls - at the time, but worked nights so I couldn't go to practices.  So derby was more something to talk about than something to do.

When we moved to Bloomington I looked for a local roller derby team, but there wasn't one.  It looked like roller derby was just going to be one of those silly things I talked about but never did.  And then I met KateThulu.  A friend brought her to a party we were throwing, in one of those perfect serendipitous moments that changes your life forever - because Kate just happened to mention roller derby.  Kate skates with the Twin City Derby Girls, but she said there were women trying to start a league right here in Bloomington-Normal.  I let my shyness get the better of me and didn't track them down over the summer, but I knew to keep my eyes open, and found out about their tryouts in October 2010.... be continued....

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Making a Tutu

Ordinary workout clothes are fine for practice, but when derby girls are appearing in public it's important that we look like Roller Derby Girls.  Just in case the skates and the brand-new "Fresh Meat" t-shirt don't do the job, I wanted fishnets and a tutu for the Good to Go appearance.

A few dollars' worth of tulle and a couple hours' work were enough to provide me this very simple tutu.  Most of the online instructions seem to be for making costumes for little girls who want to be fairy princesses or something - the steps are the same, but the colors are likely to be different for derby.  So here's how I did it; and if making a tutu seems like too much trouble, my friends at Sue Zq Bows will be happy to fix you up with a custom tutu of your own.

For a tutu, you'll need tulle in one or more colors - more than you think you'll need.   I used about 6 1/2 yards of black, and 4 1/2 yards of green.  If you're not a regular fabric shopper, know that this stuff often comes on sale, and that fabric stores usually run 40% off coupons, so never pay full price for your fabric.  I've read you can get tulle in long strips in the wedding section of craft stores - that would be easier to work with, but you won't have as many colors available.
Cut the tulle into strips.  It's much easier to do this neatly with a rotary cutter than with scissors.  I made my strips 10" wide.   Then cut the strips to be somewhat longer than twice the length you want the tutu to be.  I decided that my tutu would be about as long as 1/4 the width of my tulle, so I could get two strips from every 10" of fabric.

Wrap a piece of no-roll elastic, about 1" wide, around your waist where you'll wear the tutu.  Measure over the sort of clothes you'll wear the tutu over.  Stretch the elastic just slightly as you wrap and cut it, then overlap the ends about an inch and sew them together into a loop.

Take a strip of tulle and fold it in half.  I offset my ends a bit to try to get a little more length in the tutu, but you can also fold them evenly.

Lay the center of the strip of tulle under the elastic.  Bring the ends of the tulle up around the elastic, and pass them through the loop formed by the center of the strip, making a lark's head knot.
Pull the knot snug, but do not twist the elastic or pull the tulle out of place.

 Continue to add strips of tulle all the way around until your tutu is finished.

Towards the end, you may need to stretch the elastic slightly or push the knots together.  You'll want the elastic to be completely covered, but you don't want to cram on so many strips that the tulle stands out straight.  You'll know when your tutu is finished.  Once it's finished, you can embellish it with ribbons or flowers or sequins to your heart's content.  Or make another one - it's that easy!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Good to Go

 Today was a big Derby day for me - my first public appearance as a MissFit.  I woke up full of jitters and low on sleep, because I'd stayed up late working on a tutu, so I'd look like a proper derby girl.

We were part of the of a local radio station's Good to Go Commuter Challenge, a week-long project to encourage people to take non-car transportation to work.  Roller skates can be a great way to commute - although the charming brick sidewalks and the little dots on the curb cuts make a rough ride!

Uptown Normal has a shiny new traffic circle, and we expected it to be closed down for the event.  So we'd planned to do a few demonstration jams, and then hang around and talk about roller derby.   Instead, they closed off half the traffic circle.  Half is not 50% as good as "all" when it means that you're separated from the car-using commuters by a thin line of traffic cones.  So we did a couple of demonstration jams without any hitting - which was probably good for me, but was less exciting for the other spectators.

I was so nervous - and so excited - getting ready for this.   As of this morning I'd been to four fresh meat practices, and I hadn't practiced alongside any of the veteran skaters.  We've done a little bit of pack work, but never run any actual jams.  So I was kind of hoping I wouldn't be needed to skate, since this was an "I'm not a doctor, but I've seen one on TV" sort of moment. 

But I was also really hoping I could skate!  I put on boutfit-type clothes for the first time this morning:  the fishnets, the booty shorts, the knee socks - and I just couldn't stop staring in the mirror.  I felt like an athlete.  I've never felt like an athlete.  I've never been athletic.  But throw on some fishnets (and my awesome new track jacket) and I'm seven feet tall, I'm doing the awesome stuff people want to watch, and I'm part of a team.  Or at least I could play the first two on TV - and I think the third is really becoming real.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Roller Derby Will Save Your Soul

That's what the woman at Rolling Thunder Fun Factory said when I bought my skates.  There are lots of hobbies out there, many of which are even good for you, but roller derby will save your soul.

I'm not sure if it needs to happen, but let's just see if it does, here on my new roller derby blog.  I started working on roller derby last October, actually made the league in March, officially started practice in April, and now I have a blog today.  So I can share what roller derby is doing for me, and all the fun things I'm doing for roller derby.

And we'll see if it does anything for my soul.