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Windy City Rollers Sat Feb 27 2010

The Derby Dame's Roller Derby Primer

Derby-Dame.jpgSo, you're ready for your first roller derby bout--you've bought the tickets, taken the party bus, and are sporting a t-shirt emblazoned with your favorite Windy City Roller team's name. But hold up--ain't no beer koozie gonna clue you into what's happening on the track. There's a lot more to roller derby than just tough ladies skating in tight circles. Read further for a quick primer in roller derby game play.

What They're Wearing:

According to WFTDA (Women's Flat Track Derby Association, a national organization to which the Windy City Rollers belong), all skaters must wear knee, wrist, and elbow guards; a helmet; and a mouth guard. And, of course, quad roller skates. Hot pants or skirts aren't regulation, but it's certainly du rigueur.

The Gals on the Track:

During any given play (aka "jam"), there can be up to five girls from each team on the track. Generally, there is the Jammer, the Pivot, and three Blockers. This line-up may change during a jam, due to skaters being injured or sitting in the penalty box, or for strategic purposes.

In brief, here's a description of each position:

The Jammer: This is the gal with the swiftest moves, and the one wearing the helmet cover with the star on it. The Jammer speed skates around the track and through the other team's defense--for every person on the opposite team she legally passes, she scores a point.

The Blockers: These gals are the brute force of the derby pack. Working with the Pivot, Blockers have the unique distinction of acting as both offense (keeping the rival Jammer from scoring) as well as defense (opening up holes in the pack and ushering their own Jammer through the pack unscathed). They don't get their own fancy headwear.

The Pivot: Wearing a helmet cover with a stripe on it, the pivot is a special sort of Blocker. She sets the pace of the pack and is often the last line of defense against the rival team's Jammer. In certain cases, she can even take over for the Jammer!

XX vs. Hell's Belles - by gil leora
The Pivot (in the striped cap on the left) attempts to block the Jammer (in the star cap).
Photo courtesy of Gil Leora.

Derby definition: Pack. This is the largest group of Blockers skating together that contains members from both teams. The team members within a pack must keep within approximately 10 feet of one another. If the pack starts to stretch out, watch the inside referees--they'll hold both their arms out wide to indicate the front and the back of the pack.

Why Flat Track?

Yeah, banked tracks look cool (and it's what was used in the movie Whip It), but currently, most roller derby leagues in the nation skate on a flat track. This is due in part because flat tracks (as it were) are far more portable--they don't need disassembling and transportation. In fact, all that's needed is some tape or cones to designate a track. Flat track skating is also more economical, making it easier to find practice space, not to mention there's a big difference in upkeep. Flat track derby also takes the action closer to the audience--in many cities, spectators sit and stand on the floor, close to the action. In Denver, the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls' announcer would instruct, "It's considered good luck when a derby girl crashes into your beer!" And, as Eight Track of the Texas Rollergirls says, "Why take out a rail, when you can take out the audience?"

Next stop: Now that you know who's who, in the next installment of The Derby Dame, I'll show you what's what.

The Derby Dame is Gapers Block contributor Kara Luger, who skated as Typhoid Mary with the Windy City Rollers and the Pikes Peak Derby Dames.
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Lori / March 4, 2010 8:03 PM

Good article on a cool sport. I look forward to the next one!

Clare / July 3, 2012 5:34 PM


I am a college student trying to share my neuroscience research at a conference in the fall. I have entered a video contest to try to get entry to the conference as winnings. My lab mate and I have created a roller derby themed video and a small replica of your "Derby Dame" poster from 2010 (which we found on Google images) is pictured in the video. We need to square away all copyright business and were wondering if we may use your original work? If not, we can withdraw our submission to the contest.

Thank you for your time!

Clare and Victoria

Andrew HuffAuthor Profile Page / July 3, 2012 11:30 PM

Hi Clare, sure, just credit it to Gapers Block in some way.

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