Gender rolls

By Zhang Yiqian Source:Global Times Published: 2013-11-20 19:13:01

Spills are part of the fun in roller derby. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Spills are part of the fun in roller derby. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Last Saturday, at a skating rink in Tuanjiehu Park in Chaoyang district, Jay Latarche declared Annie her "derby wife" in front of all their teammates.

"It means that you are partners. You cover each other and help each other out in a game," Latarche said.

And they do - these roller skaters support their partners and their teammates as well. During Saturday's roller derby bout, the 20 skaters jostled against each other as they skated around a track marked out with cones, shouting out commands all the while.

In February of this year, Annie and Latarche introduced roller derby to Beijing. The roller-skating sport has been popular for decades in Western countries, but the concept is new to China. By starting the league, Latarche hopes to get the word out and attract more Chinese members.

Latarche came to China in February from the UK, where she had competed enthusiastically for two years with the Milton Keynes Roller Derby in Buckinghamshire. Quickly realizing there was no established group in Beijing, she posted on an online forum asking whether anybody was interested in roller derby. She got a response from Annie (who declined to give her last name), an expat who had started skating in 2010 with the San Angelo Soul Sisters in Texas. Together, they co-founded the Beijing Roller Derby league.

The co-ed team currently has about 20 members, whose skill level ranges from absolute beginners to experienced skaters. They meet twice a week for practice, where they work on skills like falling, hitting and track awareness.

Melissa Jansson, whose skater pseudonym is "li'l bit pissy," did roller derby for about four years in the US. It first became popular in the States during the 1960s, but has become an intense, competitive sport in the last decade, she said.

"Roller derby" used to refer to merely skating in circles, but now it's a full-contact sport on wheels, Latarche said.

"The sport has changed a lot," Jansson agreed. "At first it was about wearing fun clothes, skating around and knocking girls around, but it has become very sophisticated about strategy and truly respected as a legitimate sport."

Latarche suspects the change is due to female empowerment - that women are feeling more confident and willing to participate in sports.

"Roller derby brings with it a sort of community," Annie added. "It's more than just a bunch of tough ladies skating around hitting each other. It is a bunch of tough ladies skating together, partying together and caring for each other in a way I have never experienced in any other sport."

The Beijing Roller Derby has kept the tradition of "derby names," where skaters adopt a persona and wear a costume or makeup that suits the name they have chosen for themselves.

"The derby names give us a chance to express ourselves and become something that we can't be in our everyday lives, whether that is being tough, sexy, silly or whatever. It's just plain fun," Annie said. Her derby name is Hooten Annie, which sounds like "hootenanny," a regional American term for a rousing party. She usually wears cowboy boots and denim cut-offs as part of her persona, she said.

The sport has grown popular internationally in recent years. In China, Shanghai and Hong Kong also have their own derby leagues. Right now, the Beijing Roller Derby league doesn't have an official goal, but they sure hope more Chinese can join the team, Latarche said.

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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