Since roller skating caught on in late 1800s America, roller derby’s popularity has waxed and waned over the years. A feature on prime time television during the 50s and 60s, the public fell out of favour with the sport until the Millennium arrived and a group of women in the Austin, Texas laced up their skates and made roller derby their own.
There’s No ‘I’ In Team Season rolls on this month with Bob Ray’s smash mouth documentary Hell on Wheels (2007) which chronicles the resurrection of all-girl roller derby in the Austin art and music scene. But like with each film in this season, Hell on Wheels is about a lot more than sport – empowerment, solidarity, community, control, rebellion, rejection, resentment and greed all play their part here.
More so than women wishing to partake in roller derby, roller derby is used as a means of empowering women; its athleticism and physicality offering a middle finger to a society in which women are expected to simply look nice and play the doting housewife. Its rebirth is met with much enthusiasm and DIY organisation, self-training and grassroots promotion begin in earnest (sounds familiar).
But soon a rift forms and cracks appear in the group’s take-on-the-world armour. Talk of money and finances threatens to stall the movement’s progression as the league’s original organisers refuse to relinquish control to members seeking increased equality and shared responsibility in its running. Power corrupts and while those in charge may not themselves be corrupt, the spirit which brought about the resurrection of roller derby in Texas certainly becomes so.
Since the events documented in Hell on Wheels, roller derby has swept the globe thanks to feminism and changing ideas of gender in society, and increased use of social media. Leagues can now be found in Canada, Australia, Great Britain, France, Brazil, New Zealand, Germany, Belgium, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Israel, Singapore, Dubai, and Egypt, among other countries.
Yorkshire being Yorkshire, leagues are in abundance throughout the region and have already made their mark on the UK RD scene. The Leeds Roller Dolls‘ ‘A’ team – the Rebel Roses – will soon be travelling to Florida to participate in the 2015 Beach Brawl tournament. Leeds is also home to Hot Wheel Roller Derby AKA The Hotties and an all-mens team Aire Force One. There is also Wakey Wheeled Cats (Wakefield), Sheffield’s Steel Rollergirls (women) and The Inhuman League (men) Spa Town Rollers (Harrogate), and in Halifax we have The Bruising Banditas and The Skateful Dead (m). All teams are continuously recruiting new members so, if you think fishnets and laying the smackdown might be your jam, heed the words of Kristen Wiig’s Maggie Mayhem in Whip It: “put some skates on – be your own hero”.
Hell On Wheels screens at The Palace Picturehouse in Armley Mills Industrial Museum on Thursday 21 May from 7PM (doors open 630PM). Tickets are available now from our online ticket office for only £5… £5!
The feature presentation will be accompanied by a selection of short films and an offering of delicious baked treats courtesy of the award-winning Noisette Bakehouse.
Rock n’ roller derby!