By Celeste McAlpin-Levitt
As they roar around the track, the roller derby skaters jostle for position at the front of the pack, trying to stay ahead of their rivals from the opposing team. The Varsity Brawlers are trying to unseat the Tough Cookies for this year’s championship. Around the Los Angeles Derby Dolls arena, fans clap and scream their favorite players’ names while munching on food truck fare. The energy is high as the jam comes to a close, with the scoreboard showing the teams nearly neck and neck.
The sport of roller derby dates back to the mid-1930s when Leo Seltzer formed a touring company of teams playing an early form of the high contact sport on roller skates. Throughout most of the 20th century it was a predominantly male sport, but in the early 2000s several all-female, local leagues began to develop in different parts of the U.S. These leagues often had a strong punk or rockabilly aesthetic both in the rink and in the stands, and emphasized a feminist, queer, empowering atmosphere. Enthusiasm for the sport increased rapidly, with 2,000 leagues sprouting up worldwide. The sport gained popularity with the 2009 release of Whip It!, starring Ellen Page as a gifted skater new to the sport.