Since starting in Chicago, USA in 1935, roller derby has had a reputation for being rough, aggressive, colourful, and thoroughly entertaining!
Once the sport had begun, professional roller derby quickly became popular; in 1940 more than five million spectators watched matches in about 50 cities across the USA. In the following decades it predominantly became a form of entertainment where the theatrical elements overshadowed the athleticism.
The sport declined in popularity in the 1970s, but was revived and reinvented in 2001 by a grassroots league in Austin, Texas. This revival focused on athleticism, community, sisterhood and sassiness. Although some sports entertainment qualities such as player pseudonyms and colorful uniforms were retained, scripted bouts with predetermined winners were abandoned. As word spread, amateur all-women roller derby leagues began to emerge across America and, soon after, all over the world.
Roller derby has enjoyed an explosion in popularity in recent years. There are now more than 1,250 leagues internationally (half of which are outside the USA) and Australia currently has roller derby leagues in all states, with more popping up every few months. With over 37,000 participants worldwide, roller derby is the fastest-growing female-focused amateur sport in the world, and is now under consideration for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games.
Check out the video above of a women’s Roller Derby competition from the 1950s – no helmets!
In September this year at The Sydney Vintage & Retro Fair, we were fortunate to have several members of the Sydney Roller Derby League on hand to entertain visitors and introduce them to the world of roller derby. The lovely ‘Fiesty Cuffs’ also demonstrated some of the popular ‘moves’ on stage.
Members of Sydney’s Beauty School Knockouts Team are pictured at right. The girls rock a ‘vintage/rockabilly/punk’ fashion vibe, with 1950s waitress-style dresses set off by fishnet tights and argyle socks – a look that is popular with roller derby teams around the world.
At the Sydney fair we caught up with ‘Feisty Cuffs‘ and learned a bit more about why roller derby is such a big part of her life…
“I signed up to a ‘Learn to Skate’ class with Sydney Roller Derby League about four years ago, and they taught me how to skate. Now, I am Captain of the Screaming Assault Sirens and a member of the Assassins (our A grade representative team).
When I started derby, I became part of something so much bigger than myself, I got an instant family. There is nothing quite like it. And to be surrounded by so many strong women, it made me want more from myself, on and off the track.”
The Sydney Roller Derby League was established in late 2007, and now has more than 90 members. They also had their first full competitive season in 2009. They are always looking to recruit new skaters, secure bigger venues and continue promoting the sport in the greater Sydney area. For more information about the how you can be involved in the 2014 competition as a competitor or spectator, go to: www.sydneyrollerderby.com
For information on roller derby leagues around the country, visit: www.rollerderbyaustralia.com.au