The Roller Derby World Cup Skates Into Dallas This Weekend

By Anita Riot If you aren't familiar with the decade-long rise of modern roller derby, you may not know that teams, officials and fans from 30 different countries have already taken over the concrete floors of the Dallas Convention Center.

The Roller Derby World Cup, hosted by Blood & Thunder magazine, will span December 4 to this Sunday, December 7. It is the second all-female international derby tournament of its kind. The first took place in Toronto in 2011, where USA nabbed the gold in an overwhelming sweep. This came as no surprise, as the US had a leg-up on most countries -- the first modern leagues cropped up in North America over ten years ago, beginning with Austin, Texas and spreading like wildfire to major metropolitan areas across the country. Big contenders this year include England, Canada, and Australia -- which have leagues that have risen to Division 1 in the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) competitive rankings.

This year's participating countries include the USA (of course), England, Canada, New Zealand and Puerto Rico, among others. The tournament will span three tracks inside the building. It's predicted there will be up to 7,000 in attendance during the 4-day event.

Initial games' whistles have already blown, including a match between New Zealand and Norway -- which also featured the traditional Haka performed by Team NZ at the inaugural event. Friday morning will see more 40-minute pool-based games as well as full 60-minute consolation rounds and two expo (just for funsies) bouts. The first will be a Vagine Regime match, which is a special invitation-only team of skaters who support the LGBT community. The second will be Stars vs Stripes, where the women of Team USA will split into two teams and play each other, because, well, they can. Saturday features the brackets containing those teams who won their pool games in hopes of a shot at finals on Sunday. Also featured on Sunday are a Junior Roller Derby expo (yes, even the youngins are in on it -- and they will blow you away) and an all-stars game comprised of select skaters from each participating country.The level of athleticism required in the sport will be on full display over the weekend.

It's a subculture phenomenon. You can still find folks covered in tattoos and sporting multi-colored locks, undercuts, mohawks, and the like. But today skaters who play at the international level apply themselves with the discipline of Olympic athletes. Many cross train regularly and prescribe to healthy lifestyles that enable them to compete for their league's top teams. Common crossover sports for derby players are hockey, speed skating, soccer, and most recently CrossFit. Still, there are some skaters who come from less athletic backgrounds, but who became hooked with increasing confidence. Any league member from any area you ask will tell you that what tops it all is the community and camaraderie found in the revolutionary revival.

This recent comeback is called a "revival" only because roller derby has been in and out of the public eye since the 1930s. Baby boomers and Gen-Xers can relate, as they likely saw it on television as children. Throughout the decades up to the '90s, roller derby was notorious as a fast-paced hybrid between a race on eight wheels and western wrestling reminiscent of WWF and WWE. These days, the sport has evolved into a very serious contact sport. Instead of theatrics or clotheslining elbows of yore, expect all hip checks, shoulders to sternums, and tight defensive strategies that make the jammers (those who score points by passing opposing players) work harder than ever before. Imagine lineman in American football or rugby scrums, but using toestops instead of cleats to grip the ground to push and jive.  The sport has come a long way since its inception. It's 100 percent real, and everyone involved feels it. Whether it's through the rush of a successful jam, the glory of winning a hard-fought game, or the pain of an injury on the track, there is no denying the pride and excitement of being a part of such a unique sport. In celebration of all the accomplishments, sweat, tears -- and yes, even blood -- and in true form, the after parties are often just as splendid as the game. After the final winners are crowned, the derby world will crowd into Thrive Night Club at the Crowne Plaza hotel downtown.

Dallas is no stranger to derby. With five active women's and men's leagues within the golden triangle area (the Dallas Derby Devils and Assassination City have been around since 2004) the city is primed for the sport. A large chunk of the event's volunteers are members of these area leagues, though many traveled hundreds or thousands of miles or worked remotely to be a part of the well-oiled machine. Modern roller derby sticks thanks to a DIY ethic, where the skaters and hardcore enthusiasts work together with little to no pay (if any) in return. It's all done for the love of derby -- which makes it all the more special to its participants and fans alike. The roller derby is taking over your city, and it's here to stay.

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