A fun yet brutal all-women’s sport has been growing and thriving here in Tacoma and across the Pacific Northwest — roller derby. Dockyard Derby Dames, Tacoma’s original women’s flat-track derby league, is expanding their ranks by training news skaters to join the league. The Dockyard league is comprised of three local teams — Femme Fianna, Marauding Molly’s and The Trampires — and one all-star travel team, Wave of Mutilation.
For those unfamiliar with roller derby, it is a contact sport on roller skates. Games — or “bouts” — are played by two teams which each field five players: four “blockers” and one “jammer.” The jammer gains points by lapping the opposing team, while the blockers assist their jammer by shoving and getting in the way of the opposing team, hindering their attempts to gain the upper hand.
Skaters also get to choose their own roller derby name. Each name is hand-picked by the player as their new identity in the roller derby world.
In early March, Dockyard Derby Dames put out an open call new skater intake session, where new skaters came out and — instead of trying out — signed up to learn the ins and outs of roller derby. About 50 women showed up, wanting to take the plunge into the world of this sport. These “bruisers,” as new skaters are called, have since been learning how to play roller derby from current Dockyard skaters.
To officially join a team, bruisers must learn how to be confident on their skates, master the skills of both blockers and jammers and memorize the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association rules. Practices specifically for bruisers are held every Sunday, though they are also invited to participate in Dockyard’s team practices during the week. The overall goal for the bruisers is to be drafted onto a Dockyard home team after they complete their “bruiser curriculum.”
During practice, veteran skaters commonly call out encouragement to the bruisers. You often hear veterans shouting, “You got this!” and “You’re doing great!” They also instruct the new skaters on how to improve their skills.
“There is no greater feeling than pushing your body to the breaking point and having all these women cheer for you and remind you that when you think you’re done, you can still push even harder,” said Painelope Bruise, one of the new skaters.
Some bruisers didn’t know how to skate, or hadn’t skated for a long time when they first started training with Dockyard. Six weeks later, the bruisers will soon attempt the minimum skills test for the first time.
“I have a ways to go but it doesn’t seem so far away anymore,” said Pixie, a current brusier.
Minimum skills include the basics of skating forwards, backwards, stopping and some of roller derby’s more fancy footwork. Once the bruisers pass minimum skills, they are cleared to start learning the more contact heavy parts of derby, bringing them one step closer to team eligibility. The new skills taught include things like blocking, giving and taking hits and shoving through a pack of skaters.
While the main goal is to be draft eligible, each skater is encouraged to work at their own pace, focusing on self-improvement rather than comparing themselves with others. Dockyard doesn’t only help the bruisers with skating, bur help empower them as well. One of Dockyard’s main objectives is to teach the bruisers that “falling is a part of learning” and “falling means you’re pushing yourself to learn new things.” While many don’t like the idea of falling on a hardwood floor, the more you try and the quicker you get up, the better you’ll be overall.
Many think of roller derby as a hobby, but for these women it is so much more. Connie Pinko — who leads the bruisers’ practice — describes it well. She says that “[roller derby] is about empowering women and building confidence in women. It is about encouraging women to step outside the box of what society tries to tell us we can and cannot be and do. It is about playing a full contact, fully aggressive sport that embraces all women from all backgrounds and supports them in who they are.”
Although the bruisers aren’t yet a part of an official team, the veteran players are already welcoming them into the derby life. NeenerSaurusRex, a bruiser, joined Dockyard, “because [she] knew [she] would be immediately accepted [with a] strong sense of camaraderie and compassion.”
Bruisers aren’t counted as “aspiring skaters” or “almost derby girls,” they already are derby girls and they are a part of the Dockyard Derby Dames family.