April 10, 2012 • In web :: Features
Pump Up the Jams
Emily M. Keeler looks at the passion that fuels Toronto Roller Derby.
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Before every bout a video is played to illustrate the basic objectives and rules. While I imagine this would seem strange in a football stadium or at basketball game, I definitely appreciated the primer. Derby is played by two teams of five on a flat oval track, matches are called bouts and each bout is split into jams that last for two minutes. Each team is made up of four blockers and a jammer. The two sets of blockers start ahead of the jammers, and points are awarded for each blocker that the jammer passes as she tries to skate ahead and overlap the pack. Each blocker has two aims: keep the opposing jammer behind them and enable their own jammer to pass through the pack.
There are additional rules that limit the kinds of contact blockers can make. Nevertheless, there is this terrifying move called the can opener, where a blocker gets a little ahead of whomever she wants to take out, skates low to the ground and then pops up like a jack in the box, pushing her shoulder blades right into her opponent's sternum to forcefully knock her down. Like I said, tough stuff.
Guided by a profoundly progressive ethos, the Toronto Roller Derby League (ToRD) really does put inclusive, intersectional feminism into practice; the league is trans-inclusive and body positive, and the Derby community is built on the active participation of all members of the league. Players are expected to put in about ten hours a week to practice and volunteer. As an incorporated business run almost entirely by the women in the game, everything about the ToRD, from PR to T-Shirt sales is handled by someone who knows how to booty block; the organization is fueled by passion for the sport.