My answer is simple: yes.
I don’t care what league you belong to or watch or even if you just follow Derby on a streaming basis, you must make the pilgrimage to Los Angeles, skip Disneyland and all that crap, and get out to 1910 W. Temple Street on game night.
From the outside it is a huge white warehouse, except there is writing on the wall that tells you what it is. And once you enter you know that somehow in your mind you know this is the perfect Roller Derby dojo.
On game night there seem to be at least 100 people who are getting you into an immense courtyard with a food truck and more, and finally into the temple itself, where about a dozen people get you through security, the ticket place, and into the perfect place for the sacred game.
If you go to the hall on the left (if you are in the know you can tell there is a training flat track beneath all the food, clothing, Derby odds and ends and various beverages that are purveyed). And to the very rear of the hall, there is a high energy rock band (Laszlo…no relation to Margie) shaking the walls, with tables in front of them.
And if you could have access to the doors in back (as I was privileged to) you would enter a hallway with offshoots of a make up room, officials room, dressing rooms etc, and in the very back, the office of the amazing Demolicious Ladd who I now can attest really exists: A strikingly beautiful woman, reminding me of the Hollywood women I saw in the days when Roller Derby played at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in LA and all the stars came out, and she dresses accordingly.
Demolicious and Thora Zeen founded the league in 2003. To get all of the correct information, go to Los Angeles Derby Dolls in wikipedia, and see why they have been designated as a Treasure of Los Angeles by the Central City organization. Demolicious skated her first three and a half years with the Dolls, but then has overseen the transformation of the huge space in to what it is today, with the modern Derby tradition of volunteer help. There are very few paid employees, and no paid skaters or officials or medical staff.
Demolicious then escorted me into the banked track arena. First I had to stop by the announcers’ turret, and say hello to Evil E and the others. Dumptruck was on the road somewhere. I then walked into a darkened Kezar Pavilion (original home of the SF Bay Bombers, seen every week in 15 million homes on the Roller Derby network). It is about a three-quarters version, with seating (and standing) surrounding the first Kitt Track.
The game on Saturday featured the Dolls travel team, the Ri-ettes against the San Diego Dolls. Prior to the game, you could watch the four large video screens and hear clearly (unlike many Derby venues) the announcements over the PA. I was soon joined by my nephew David Gurian (the Founder’s grandson), his lovely companion, and his daughter (i.e. Leo Seltzer’s great-granddaughter) Sarah. Sarah has a beautiful trained voice and I hope she is invited to sing the national anthem at some point.
The crowd was a great, non-rowdy but vociferous bunch, that had obviously looked forward to this Saturday night for some time. They had come before, they would come again, and this was probably the umpteenth sellout with I estimate about 2000 lucky attendees on hand. (Go to you tube under LA Derby Dolls to see 112 videos…..)
I was able to meet so many of my “friends” that I knew from facebook, twitter, blog,etc, and I felt like I was at home. And then I was joined by the lovely Lottie Dah and Kristi Ryan. And please, other leagues, don’t get offended, but I could not believe how beautiful, fit, and in condition the skaters from both leagues were, and I soon saw why they had to be (fit, that is, the beauty was all theirs).
San Diego was terribly outwomanned, but you couldn’t tell if from the constant effort they put out all game long. They were skating against the LA travel team, one of the best in the world. There are also 4 home teams in the league. The Ri-ettes skate the games from the start of the year until July, usually against leagues from out of the area, and then from August on the home teams skate each other in their league, ending with playoffs and a champion; the perfect format for any league.
The Derby Dolls had invited members of the Angel City, Tampa, Houston and other leagues who were in town (more friends to meet!) to attend, and once again, their attitude that everyone who skates Derby, regardless of the style, is joined in the common effort to move the game forward.
And boy (girl?) have they moved the game forward. They are part of a new banked track coalition of leagues, and I could tell right away when the game started, that the rules had been changed. There are four 15-minute periods and 60-second (hallelujah!) jams.
The jams start from the starting line with the jammers behind, but then all hell breaks loose; these are well-conditioned athletes who know the game, and immediately the jammers try to bully through the MOVING pack and the pack skaters (and that is where the real game takes place) are in formation blocking the opponent, and helping their own jammer, and that effort never stops the whole jam.
The Ri-ettes pretty much had their own way, but San Diego never stopped trying, and the crowd cheered whenever they scored (not often). But the score wasn’t important to the fans; it was the constant motion, blinding speed of jammers and the athleticism shown by the players, which is sometimes lacking in games that I have seen elsewhere, which is primarily a conditioning and training issue, as well as an understanding of the game they are playing.
Although LA won by a tremendous margin, virtually none of the audience left before the end because each jam was an exciting play with the beautiful essence of The Game. And the informal after party was right there in this safe and secure facility. Please, other leagues (and this is not entirely fair, because I have not seen so many of them play ) make the pilgrimage to the Doll Factory to see what I am talking about. And the feeling you are at something special when you walk into the space.
This surely portends the game of the future, and almost (well, you would have expected that) satisfied me. And unfortunately they don’t use Brown Paper Tickets. Admission is $18 GA, $40 VIP, and is so much worth it.
This was an event, and THAT is what I am talking about. I wish you were in my neighborhood, Derby Dolls. And it was the day after Leo’s 110th birthday, and damn, I know he enjoyed. The next game is against Rose City (Portland, my home town), and I advise them to be in the very best shape. Get your tickets early!
After my tour
Much better than “Springtime for Hitler”.
But this really refers to an amazing woman I met at Rollercon who is so important to all Rollergirls…that is my tease and we will get to that. And because of her and the committee of women who hung out at bars in Austin as of today there are 1002 amateur leagues in 36 countries!
The event was such a blur of people and events, all good. Val and I and Judi Flowers hosted our seminar at the top of the Riv, where just about 17 hours later Val and I were joined in Derby Bliss…..if you haven’t seen the photo on my facebook page with the two of us, Razorslut (?) and a virtually naked Dumptruck and his bride (?), then you really are not in the in group.
Anyway, we kind of focused on one area in our session: what to do to when you are a new or small league and don’t have a lot of resources to get the word out to your community. (Stay tuned, the springtime reference lies ahead somewhere). To give a short summary, Val gave her league’s experiences in Chicago which is basically get every one out on the street (they don’t do it, they don’t skate) to give out handbills, posters, make contacts, etc. It is tough for many to project themselves, but it is really necessary. She pushes the personality factor that I think is often ignored: fans often come to see “stars” rather than just a collection of players….I agree, everything helps.
And you make contacts to radio and TV stations and all publications (you have teams in uniforms; programming always has time to fill, it might as well be you.) Send a clear and consistent message: if you have a good story to get media coverage (“Mary is a successful gynecologist and a hell of a blocker”) use that. The mere stats of here are the teams, the time, the place, the ticket information are completely necessary, but are never your hook to the story.
How did your league get started? What are the sacrifices etc? What makes a good story? The main thing, get off your asses and personally get the word out.
Mildred Fierce had a great PR session and I know that helped a lot. Santa Cruz does an amazing job. Look up their current video: All the women looking great in their uniforms, shown individually with their names; come out and see Jane Jones – someone the audience can identify with. Our principle in getting people to come to see Roller Derby in the day was empathy: you are seeing people skating who are not 7 feet tall nor weigh 350 pounds, but they are just like you and you can be out there, so identify. And if you are trying to get new skaters let them know that not all players are athletes or even skated before.
We wanted to cover a lot more, but did not have the time. Again, have your PR people join the growing group of many others at Roller Derby PR on facebook…..you have to request to join.
OK, what month is representative of spring? April of course.
April Ritzenhaler is a beautiful blonde woman with a radiant smile. She and Judi hit it off immediately. In Austin she is a wonderful massage specialist, yoga and other instructor, and so much more and she has a real job too. And she is married to a policeman.
Anyway, when Dan had this idea of presenting a Roller Derby one time in Austin, utilizing patrons from a number of bars in that town, she was on the scene…..nobody even knew what a Roller Derby was. The figured it would be circus-like, on skates, with a dancing bear (?). Well they were raising funds and lo and behold, goodbye Dan and the funds. So they thought, what the heck, let’s do it anyway. So April and the others did a little research and came up with rules; April and two of the other women had just finished boxing sessions (ask her why), and since they didn’t know what to call it, they called it a bout (AHA). And they thought boxing would help a lot, so at each bout they would stop the skating and have a phony fight with two woman (they were trained to not hurt each other). And, aha again, the TXRD game is skated on a BANKED track and with basically the old rules….now the phony fights have stopped, but real fights are allowed.
Just think about it: Whip It, which created so much interest for all of you features a game on the banked track that is similar to TXRD, so all games are Roller Derby and let’s all play together! Leo Seltzer was the founder of Roller Derby in 1935. And April and her committee are the founders of current Roller Derby (official date, June 2002).
More on Rollercn in later posts.