Montreal. Saturday night. 9:00 pm. I am sitting on an unforgiving concrete floor, cold Pabst in hand. For the past two hours, I’ve watched grown women rollerskating around in circles, trying to knock one another down. In a few moments, it will begin again, this time with men thrown into the mix. If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m at a Montreal Roller Derby game.
Roller derby, predominantly a women’s sport, has been around since the 1940s, but started gaining mainstream popularity in the early 2000s. I spoke with Jacinthe (A.K.A. Cracker Jass of The Montreal Sexpos), who has been playing for three years, and she explained the rules well with, “There are a lot of rules, too many to tell you. Our rule book is like 45 pages. If there’s a penalty, just know that someone did something that they aren’t supposed to do.”
The basics of the sport are relatively simple though; there are two teams of five players each made up of four blockers and one jammer. The jammer is the player who scores by making laps around the track. In order to make laps, the jammer must make it through the wall of blockers, who, you guessed it, do their very best to block the opposing team’s jammer from busting through and making a lap. Each game (or bout, as the players call them) is made up of two 30-minute periods. The players fall hard and the score rises quickly.
Upon arriving at St. Louis Arena, I was surprised by the crowd outside. Men and women of all ages were standing around talking excitedly about the evening ahead, yelling things like, “Save me a spot in the suicides!” and “Grab me a Pabst!” This, of course, was immediately intriguing to me. Once I had made it through the crowd and into the arena, I found Jacinthe, my roller derby guide for the evening, waiting for me at the merch table. She quickly introduced me to a few of her fellow players, including Li’l Mama (of New Skids on the Block A.K.A. the number one team in Canada) who was a holding a giant sign above her head that read “ASK ME ABOUT ROLLER DERBY.” I could tell right away that newcomers (like myself) were incredibly welcomed and encouraged to be curious. “Sit there,” said Li’l Mama pointing at the track where players were practising, “I’ll find you if you have any questions.”
Jacinthe led a wary, but very willing, me down to the track and we made ourselves comfortable (I am using this term loosely) at one end of the track. Sitting on the floor of the arena, I wondered wordlessly to myself whether or not this was a safe place to sit. I got my answer when I looked at the floor in front of me and saw two signs; one read “SIT HERE AT YOUR OWN RISK” and the other “Pregnant women and children should not sit in the suicide seats.” Suicide seats. I knew then that this would be a very interesting Saturday night indeed. I was able to put my impending doom aside, however, and got straight to the point with Jacinthe.
“The game has evolved, even since I’ve been playing,” explained Jacinthe of the overall state of the sport today, “It’s always been like ‘we drink, we play, we hit each other’ and we do, but we are also competitive and want to be taken seriously.” She went on to discuss that fact that since it is largely a women’s sport, roller derby has not had the same kind of media coverage as many male-dominated sports. In fact, since it is mostly a women’s sport, it is depicted in a completely different way than men’s sports. “People often expect fishnets and the sexy rockabilly look, but not all of us want to do that,” said Jacinthe.
I was lucky enough to stay for two games. The first game was La Racaille versus Les Contrabanditas and the second was the first of its kind: men, The Mount Royals, versus women, The Montreal Sexpos. I quickly found myself lost in the game. The mixture of graceful skating and brutal hitting was transfixing and the fact that women and men of all ages and all body types were playing together was incredibly admirable. Of course, the crowd also makes the games as rowdy and entertaining as they are. Looking around, I could really tell that Montreal Roller Derby is a family affair. I saw children with their parents, breast-feeding and expectant mothers along with young people, older people, punks, preps, and everyone in between. All around me, people were greeting each other with hugs, cheering loudly and building ‘beeramids’ with their empty Pabst cans. The enthusiasm in the arena was contagious. Pauline, who was sitting next to me with a group of friends (and an impressive beeramid, I might add) put it best when she exclaimed, “First comment, it’s awesome! Second comment, it’s a lot of fun! Third comment, it’s awesome!”
All in all, my night with the Montreal Roller Derby league was an exciting way to spend five hours (yeah, that’s how long I stayed). Leaving, I felt energized and couldn’t help but smile at the this new world I’d discovered. Jacinthe said, “People used to come for the party and stay for the game, but we want people to come for the game and stay for the party.” Honestly, with a night like the one I had, I do not think they’ll have any problems with that.
The next two roller derby meets take place at the St. Louis Arena on July 19 at 7 p.m. and the championship on August 2 at 6 p.m. For more information, click HERE.