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Roller Derby babes … hot … but not bothered by misconception

If you haven’t seen Drew Barrymore’s new film, Whip It — check it out at a cinema near you … or read my article about the Darlins’ — southwest Florida’s roller derby babes.

Dream sequence: Whizzing past you in a blur of female testosterone – a bevy of hard-bodied babes, wearing mouth guards and helmets, some tatted up and tough, some in fishnets and form-fitting boy shorts, and tiny tanks or tees knotted high, showing bare midriffs and belly button metal.

This sure ain’t your grandma’s Roller Derby. It’s not even the tough-girl wanna-be’s Derby of the 1970s. And, you’re not dreaming.

This is the new millennium Roller Derby — turbo-charged, sexed-up and sizzlin’. And, it’s coming to a roller rink near you.

Roller Derby, which had its heyday during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, has spent most of the past two decades languishing in fits and starts as back-burner sports entertainment. In recent years, however, it’s begun to pick up a bit of steam and has gained considerable street cred among women unafraid to take a walk on the wild side.

There are about 50 active roller derby leagues nationwide by most counts, and southwest Florida even has a league of its own — the “Tampa Bay Derby Darlins.” Less than a year old, the Darlins league just had its first official bout in May 2006, dedicated to the memory of Ann Calvello, a Roller Derby rock star who passed away in 2005 of cancer.

The Darlins get together two or three times a week to train, run drills to build endurance, and scrimmage. They’re often getting their hours in on the rink in the evenings between 830 and1130 pm. For most of them, this is after working a full day and putting in hours on the home front.

On their web site, the Darlins tout themselves as offering “unrehearsed, all female, all contact” sports entertainment. From the looks of them, they’re a bunch of hard-skating, hard-ass women (literally buns of steel from all that leg action). And, sporting nicknames like “Sophie O Path” and “Joan of Ache,” they seem to be taking society’s typical notions of feminine aggression and competition and kicking those notions to the curb.

And, why shouldn’t they?

According to Deanna Burton — aka Eve L. Twin and a “jammer” for the ViceGrip Vixens, one of the four teams in the Darlins league — the women are just doing what men have done for years and years – using aggressive sports as a sort of safety-value to reduce the pressure from the daily stresses of life.

For women, Burton says, “there aren’t a lot of other outlets” to de-stress. “We’re expected,” she says, “to not only be the homemaker, but to get a job, take care of the kids, get an education.” All that takes its toll, Burton contends, and there’s something great about having a sport that lets you let out a little bit of pent-up frustration.

Burton acknowledges “It’s a violent sport, absolutely.” But, she adds, “it’s not just about the violence; it’s about the camaraderie.”

Burton describes the Darlins as a diverse group of PhD’s, tattoo artists, and single moms. They’re bound together by two things, she says, a love of skating and by what she calls “the truth of competition.”

“It’s very real,” she says. And, underneath the fishnets, outrageous nick-names, sometimes foul language and sharp elbows to the side, Derby does seem to let women show a part of their real selves that rarely gets shown. The competitive side. The powerful side. The side that’s kicking ass and taking names with tough attitudes, tougher workouts, and often brutal bouts.

The bouts themselves last just 20 minutes. And though a bout may look like a mad melee of malcontents, Burton says it’s really a game of strategy and timing between two teams of five skaters each. Each team has a pivot who leads the team, three blockers, and a jammer. The jammer position is responsible for breaking through the opposing “pack” and scoring points by passing members of the opposing team.

Up close and personal, a bout is a fast and furious, screaming, kicking and shoving rush of pure adrenaline. And Burton says she “loves it.”

A full-time professional working for International College; happily married wife to husband, Daniel; devoted mom to their two children – a seven-year old boy named Dalton, and a 10 year-old daughter, Dani — not exactly your stereotypical Roller Derby gal.

But Roller Derby was Burton’s dream when she was just a kid. An avid skater, Burton wanted nothing more than to knock around a rink. By the late 1970’s, however, Roller Derby had defunct written all over it. There’s no way a then eight-year old Deanna could have known that it would make a comeback 25 years later, or that she’d finally have a shot at her dream.

Originally from Rochester, New York, Burton moved with her parents to Florida 18 years ago. Burton and her husband, a lieutenant with Southern Manatee Fire & Rescue, have been married 11 years and live just a few minutes away from Burton’s parents and brother. It’s a close family, and Burton’s dad, a disabled Vietnam vet, cooks for the entire extended family nearly every night.

High School. College. Marriage. Children. She skated through it all (though she did briefly hang up her skates during both pregnancies), completely unaware that Roller Derby leagues were beginning to sprout up across the country and enjoying a resurgence in popularity.

In January of 2006, however, Burton started getting calls from friends telling her about a new sports reality television show called Rollergirls. Check it out, her friends insisted. And Burton, who thought “Derby was a dead sport,” did just that. She found the Tampa Bay Derby Darlins on the Internet and was immediately interested.

According to Burton, she wouldn’t have joined the Darlins without everyone in her family being on board. “It was a family decision,” she says. One that came with the full support of her husband, and a lot of help from her parents. If she has a practice, her Dad cooks around that. If the kids need to be watched, her Mom pitches in. “They’re my best friends,” Burton says of her family.

The family gave the green-light, and a few short weeks later, Eve L. Twin came out to play.

Even though she downplays her sexy side on and off the rink, Burton is well aware that Derby has always been about the chick factor. No matter how great you are – what speeds and how hard you can hit –Derby is definitely a sport with a sexy spin.

Burton says she doesn’t have to play up the typical image of tough and sexy in part because she relies on her skill to set her apart from the crowd. “I don’t feel the need to be “tough” looking,” she says “because of my performance.” She views herself as a skater first – an athlete, and she must be pretty good – her position on the team as “jammer” requires maximum speed, agility and lots of fast judgment calls.

Sexed up or not, Burton and the rest of the Darlins play it rough and righteous. According to Burton, players know that getting hurt goes with the territory and they’re fine with that.

Sounds pretty ruthless, but Burton calls it one of the most “self-satisfying” things she’s ever done. “You know what the word is?” she asks, then answers herself “– empowering.”

And this is where it gets really interesting. At least for Burton, Derby doesn’t seem to be as much about aggression or showing off her sexy side, as it seems to be about acknowledging a burgeoning sense of her own self – outside of the mother/daughter/wife roles. Just Deanna Burton – a woman and her skates.

“It’s the first selfish thing I’ve ever done,” Burton adds. She’s spent most of her life helping and taking care of others, she says, and she’s loved every minute of it. She wouldn’t trade her husband, family, kids or and their life together for anything. It’s just that now she’s got a little something just for her.

She has a blast out there in the middle of the rink, cutie-pie pigtails flying behind her, and yes, wearing the obligatory fishnets and other accoutrements of glam and goth. But for her, it’s all just evidence that a millennium mom really can have it all. “I have my family,” she says, “I have a great job.”

“And,” she adds, with the grin of an eight-year old that just got her first pair of skates, “I’m living my dream.”

Posted on October 5th, 2009Comments RSS Feed
2 Responses to Roller Derby babes … hot … but not bothered by misconception
  1. John W. Perkins
    October 6, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    Roller-babes have some of the best muscle control on a par with ballerinas and gymnasts that a man can truly appreciate.

  2. Real smooth JP!


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