The idea behind a drill called "Last Girl Standing" is simple enough. You skate up to another woman. You throw your shoulder into her shoulder until she hits the floor of the skating rink with a loud, satisfying thump. You roll on to the next prey.
That’s what Pimpin' D'Longstockins is doing as she whips around the rink at Skagit Skate in Burlington this Tuesday night like a shark cutting through water. Pimpin’ — aka Marcedes Hudson, a 32-year-old mother of two outside the rink — wants to be the last, provided she can beat down Chaos Fury, Beretta Garbo and Lady Blackheart.
But these women aren't skating with murder in their hearts. They’re all members of the newly formed Bellingham Roller Betties, an all-women roller derby league. There are seven such leagues in Washington state and four in British Columbia.
The Betties are part of a revival of an amateur athletic event that’s part burlesque — we’re talking stage names, short shorts, short skirts and fishnet stockings here — part sport and all hurt. Fitting, given that the Betties’ motto is "breaking hearts and body parts."
Never miss a local story.
"We love it. It totally fits us," says Camille Kain, a 26-year-old Bellingham resident who is Lady Blackheart.She’s talking about their motto.
She could just as easily be talking about roller derby.
HISTORY ROLLS ON
Roller derby began in 1935 as the Transcontinental Roller Derby, an endurance sport in which co-ed teams made up of one man and one woman raced on a banked track for 57,000 laps, or some 3,000 miles, at the Chicago Coliseum. That was back when dance marathons were popular forms of entertainment. The derby went on the road and morphed over time to include collisions and scripted beat-downs that found their way onto TV and film.
Its popularity crested in the early 1970s, though the game managed to limp along in some form. Then in 2001, a group of women in Austin, Texas, breathed new life into the derby, starting a revival that has led to the creation of more than 100 all-women leagues across the U.S. Like Bellingham Roller Betties, most are led by women and most are played on flat tracks vs. banked tracks of old. The scripted brawls are gone, but the Mack-truck hits remain, as well as the assorted rash rink and bruises displayed with pride.
"I have had fishnet burn on my butt (and) back thighs. I've had mystery bruises that look shockingly similar to roller skate wheels," quips Heather Davidson, a 27-year-old Bellingham mom whose alter ego is Lucinda Streets.
Not that the ladies play without protection — pads, mouthguards, wrist guards, helmets — or training.
"The falling is fun as well because it doesn't hurt right away. We've been learning how to fall so we fall without injuring ourselves," says Suzy Everson, a 30-year-old Fairhaven College student who helped start the league and who skates as Nottie A. Saiwant.
PLACES OF THEIR OWN
What accounts for roller derby’s latest popular incarnation?
Roller girls say they like the grassroots effort of a movement created and controlled by women.
There’s also the nostalgia factor. "Roller skating is fun. It takes you back to childhood," says Sorrell Joshua, a 31-year-old Bellingham resident who grew up in Ferndale and skates as Chaos Fury.
There’s the fact that switching from the more expensive banked track to the less expensive flat track makes it possible for more to organize leagues and put on bouts.
Then there’s the come-as-you-are tenet that’s welcomed every girl who grew up thinking she was an outsider — the chubby ones, the brainy ones, the weird art students, the high school punk rockers.
"I have felt more accepted — and unconditionally accepted — in roller derby than anywhere else," Davidson says.
Roller girl Melissa Joulwan, aka Melicious, echoes that view. Joulwan, an Austin, Texas, resident is one of the founders of Texas Rollergirls, the league that’s credited with reviving the sport, and author of the new book, "Roller Girl: Totally True Tales from the Track."
Plus, they all say, it's an avenue for women to make their bodies strong and a place for women to get out their aggression in an "off-kilter sport," as Joulwan describes it, and look as girly as they want.
"You can be a true athlete and play a really competitive sport but not give up the really sexy side of your personality," says Joulwan, 38, who once taught Diane Sawyer roller girl moves on "Good Morning America."
'A TRUE SPORT'
The makeup? The skirts up to here? The cleavage? The tattoos and the piercings? It’s part of the show but don’t think the women are all camp. They’re bruisers who are skating until their thighs wail with exhaustion and their shoulders ache from all those thrown blocks.
"At the heart of it, it is a true sport," Joulwan says.
Because they're new (the league came together in November) the 32 Betties are still working on learning the rules — for example, a roller girl can’t use her elbows or her hands against an opponent — and strategies for scoring.
They're working on their skating skills and building up their endurance during their Tuesday night sessions at Skagit Skate, which they rent for themselves. They hope to add more members so they can split into teams and start playing against each other. They hope to organize their first exhibition bout in Bellingham this fall.They dream of finding a place in Bellingham where they can set up their own rink and start practicing together three times a week. Then they hope to take on other leagues.
They're working up to all of that. For now, they skate, throw blocks and fall, earning whoops of appreciation after a particularly hard landing.
They're doing what they can to break hearts and body parts — all for fun, of course.