Lisa Rosett leans over, revealing the large tattoos on her ample cleavage, and coquettishly extends her fishnet-clad leg, demurely pointing to the sundry purple bruises blooming over her shins and knees.
Sassy short skirts and skinned knees, black eyes and glitter-flecked false eyelashes: It's the fabulously I-don't-fuck-around fashion statement favored by the Detroit Derby Girls.
Roller Derby has experienced the mother of all comebacks; the highly theatrical sport was birthed in 1935 and came to its peak of popularity in the early '70s, but gradually began fading away after 1975. Then, in 2001, a group of women in Austin, Texas, resurrected the sport, inadvertently kicking off "the next big thing." Within a few years, new derby leagues spread like wildfire throughout the country; today there are more than 40 leagues in the United States, and visibility (and infamy) is at an all-time high, thanks to A&E's new reality TV show Rollergirls.
The seeds of the Motor City's league were first planted on New Year's Eve 2004, when 10 women got together and asked, "Why the hell not?" The girls began recruiting, training and diligently practicing (they rehearse twice a week, for three hours, at a rink in Livonia) and networking; enlisting the help of friends and the local music scene, they threw several benefits to raise the cash for equipment (in addition to a helmet, knee and elbow pads, skaters must own their own skates, which can cost from $100 to $500).
There have been minor casualties; one skater broke her leg, another broke her arm not to mention black eyes and busted lips aplenty. (Hey, it just gives you a fuller, sexier pout, right?) But finally, all the blood, sweat, running mascara and tears have paid off, as the girls prepare for their very first bout this Saturday.
A week before the event, the girls have gathered for a dress rehearsal at the site, the drill hall on the third floor of the Masonic Temple. Cute, tattooed chicks in short skirts and booty shorts zip around in circles as volunteers create a makeshift track by taping rope lights to the slick hardwood floor in the shape of an oval. A couple of kids gleefully tear ass across the cavernous room; boyfriends and husbands scatter about, pitching in with the setup.
Though this is a serious contact sport with a solid competitive nature and major potential for injury, it also has a whopping sense of humor. The league is split into two teams: the Motown Hit Squad and the hilariously named the KILLpatricks. Each girl has a "Derby name" such as Elle McFearsome, Lady MacDeath, Ima Wrecker and Black Eyed Skeez.
"It's the only sport I've played where trash-talking is not only acceptable, but actively encouraged," says 29-year-old Linda Marie Riker (aka Devil Kitty), a former competitive swimmer.
Rosett, 21, captain of the KILLpatricks and better known as Fanny Pack, says the competition is real (and fierce), but there's still lots of camaraderie off the rink.
"It was like joining a sisterhood," Rosett says. "Everything stays on the track. We can fight and scream and hit each other as hard as we can, but the second we leave the rink we all go out and have a beer together."
"There's an element of show, but what we're doing is real," says 25-year-old Carey "Cookie Rumble" Finn, captain of the Motown Hit Squad. "This is a contact sport on wheels."
Rollergirls has been a bit of a double-edged sword; while the Detroit Derby girls are grateful for the added publicity and attention, the show like any "reality" series is sensationalized, and the girls are painted as catty and bitchy. It's also played on a banked (tilted) track, where the Detroit team plays on a flat track which means faster speeds and the ability to set up almost anywhere there's a large, smooth, flat space.
Some team members never even put on a pair of skates before joining the derby; others spent their entire adolescence on wheels.
"I used to skate to Michael Jackson in my garage the Thriller album," Riker says.
As the girls begin warming up for their practice bout, their nervous excitement is almost palpable.
"It's been a long time coming," Riker says. "For a while it was the blind coach leading the blind player, but we've come so far."
"I just want people to leave and say, 'Wow, they really put a lot of effort in,'" Finn says.
And a lot of painkillers and ice packs. The girls have a little trouble adjusting to the floor, which is markedly slicker and slipperier than their usual practice rink. As the whistle blows, they burst forth, seeming shaky at first, but growing more confident and faster with every lap. As a mass of bodies collide, willowy, tattooed Del Bomber (Rolanda Jackson, a Lansing resident who makes the hour-long trek twice a week for practice) takes a major face-plant; the observers collectively wince and let out a cry of "Ooooowwwwwww!" Moments later, Tura Skatana (Janis Glotkowski of Warren) slips and falls on her tush, and is nearly trampled by the ref on wheels, who almost skates over her.
But having your fingers rolled over or face realigned is no sweat for the Derby Girls; they're more worried about scarier things that can happen in front of 800 screaming fans.
"I just hope my dress doesn't rip off five minutes into it," Finn says.
The audience probably wouldn't complain, mind you.
The Detroit Derby Girls' Inaugural Brawl happens at 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 18, in the Drill Hall of the Masonic Temple (500 Temple St., Detroit; 313-832-2232). The afterparty takes place at the Northern Lights Lounge (660 W. Baltimore St., Detroit). Visit detroitrollerderby.com. for more info.Sarah Klein is culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call
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