Author: The Hendenberg
There are fewer moments in musical cinema more iconic than the scene in Grease where Sandy turns up to the fair, clad in unfeasibly tight black trousers, cigarette in mouth, and her hair turned up to 11. It’s not generally that noteworthy when a woman with big hair smokes while wearing black clothes, but in this instance these are visual cues that tell the audience that Sandy has decided she values her relationship with Danny more than the saintly, squeaky-clean nature that she’s been true to for the rest of the film.
Tell me about it, stud.
Side-stepping the quicksand that is the debate of how healthy and/or feminist it is that she completely changed her appearance to please her boyfriend, I think Olivia Newton-John does an incredible and subtle (seriously, bear with me on this one) job of conveying Sandy’s transformation. Although she saucily pushes her tongue up to her front teeth and purrs “Tell me about it, stud” at a dumbfounded John Travolta, there’s a still a sense of awkwardness and discomfort in Sandy when she hesitates over what to do with her cigarette and looks back at her friends for help. To me anyway, this says that the “bad girl” ideal is something she’s trying on and adjusting to rather than “it’s totally fine she was always like this deep down anyway and just needed it to be brought out of her.”
In an indirect and convoluted way, this kind of illustrates how I’ve come to feel about my relationship with roller derby. As much as I love it, and I really, really do, it’s just not me. But rather than sadly putting it back on the rack with that badass, purple, pleather jacket that I wish I’d been brave enough to buy 3 years ago, I’m cramming myself into derby with the same force required by ONJ when putting on those shiny, shiny trousers. Inch by inch, I’m overcoming all my instincts about what is an Enjoyable Thing To Do and eventually I’ll be able to do up the zip and amaze my childhood self by travelling at speed, in close proximity to other people, with wheels on my feet, without a sense of fear and doom.
I wrote a blog post last year about my experience of joining Bath Roller Derby Girls after completing a 10 week Fresh Meat course and touched on my utter lack of “natural” skating ability. I want to expand on that a little, but I’d like to add something of a disclaimer before I do. I really don’t want anyone to get the idea that I’m being negative for the sake of it, or that I’m digging for sympathy and compliments. I’m madly in love with a derby as a sport and a community, and for the most part, I’m over-the-moon happy with my progression so far.
I have what you what might call a nervous disposition. It’s gotten much better with age, but I’m a fairly anxious person and was an extremely anxious child and teenager. To illustrate, until May 2013, I never skated in any capacity ever. I had a strict, zero tolerance, Just Say No policy on ever attempting to mount a skateboard, roller skates, inlines, you name it. Skating: Not Even Once. I’ve never even really been happy and comfortable riding a bike. I’m just too scared to, every car is being driven by a blind drunk intent on crushing me like a bug, as far as I’m concerned.
I don’t like crowds of strangers or being near people I don’t know either. My pulse increases if I think anyone is standing too close behind me in the bus queue, and I will go look at something I’m not even interested in, until that dick in the plaid shirt moves his trolley out of the way of the yoghurt I want in Sainsbury’s.
This large group of people; not a problem.
So much about roller derby scares me. The proximity with which you have to skate near other people is a big one. I’ve often joked about being like a shy horse that gets spooked by seeing fast moving objects and that I should invest in some blinkers. But it’s not actually that far off the mark. It’s been pointed out to me multiple times that I’m usually one of the first to start warming up at the start of practise. It’s not because I’m eager to run and sidestep round the track though, (seriously, have you MET me?) it’s because the sooner I’m done with my warm up, the sooner I can get on the track for the few minutes’ free skate we have before training starts. If I want to work on getting my speed up through my skating stride, I have to do that before most people get kitted up and on track. And that’s not because I don’t totally trust everyone at training to be safe and capable of not colliding with me, it’s because I get scared. Overtaking and being overtaken by people at the turns, getting around people practising their inside and outside transitions. Fast, particularly sudden, movement in multiple directions makes me jump out of my skin, which you’ll have witnessed if you’ve ever been with me in a park where other people are playing football.
BRDG Fresh Meat Intake 2013
I think the reason my progress has been slower than everyone else from my Fresh Meat cohort is largely fear. Whenever a new skill is being taught, I have the same obstacle of training my body to get used to the movement as everybody else, but in addition to that, I’ll have to convince my brain that it’s okay for me to try it, even though I may be putting myself in a position where I could fall or get hurt. Please don’t think I’m saying that it’s harder for me and therefore other people don’t work as hard as I do in training. I know everybody works hard and everybody gets scared sometimes, but I think that voice telling you “oh shit, this is a bit scary and difficult, I’m not sure if I can do this!” is turned up louder than most in my head. I have to go against everything I know about myself and have been comfortable with for as long as I can remember, every time I try and do something new on my skates.
I hope I’m not creating an image of me as a frightened mouse-like creature that’s fearful of everything and not able to cope with the world. In fact, I know that there are a number of things I can do quite happily that large sections of the general population would be too scared to do. I can eat alone in restaurants with no bother. I was part of a theatre company and improvisation group for many years and I’ve performed in plays, a film and several totally unscripted, live improv shows. As part of a qualification I did in sixth form, I gave a solo presentation to my Biology class about Chlamydia, complete with photos of a very infected uterus. I should mention the choice of topic was completely my own, and it would have been very easy for me not to have subjected my classmates to such horror.
It’s been 11 months since I’ve taken up roller derby, and passing all my minimum skills is still a distant fantasy. I’ve not had any injuries and I’ve only missed a handful of practises in that time, so it’s not a case of not putting the hours in. In fact, my commitment to derby is probably the one thing about my involvement in it that I would defy anyone to find fault with. I’ve been told by my teammates numerous times that my attitude and refusal to give up is commendable. I’m not generally very good at accepting compliments, but ones of this nature I totally agree with. Call me big headed, but I’ve never worked so hard for so long at something I’m so obviously not suited to. When people say “Derby is for everyone” I agree with them to extent that anyone can find a way to be involved in this wonderful sport, but I don’t agree that roller derby as a competing participant is “for everyone”. Roller derby isn’t “for” me, but I’m taking it anyway.
All the historic goings on of Bath Roller Derby!