Practicing a minimum of three times a week, in addition to maintaining a strict cross-training regimen on their own, the members of the Mad Rollin’ Dolls roller derby league don’t take what they do lightly.
For many of the skaters, roller derby is much more than an extra-curricular activity – or even a sport – it has become a big part of their identity.
Chez Dickson, 28, a veteran seven-year skater for the Unholy Rollers – one of four teams in the Mad Rollin’ Dolls league – said her love for this sport has even influenced how she lives other parts of her life since she started roller derby while still in college at the University of Wisconsin.
“I started roller derby when I was 21, so I was still in college,” Dickson said. “I’d say I probably pushed back getting a real job after school just so I could play derby for awhile.”
Dickson says that part of the appeal roller derby offers its participants is the opportunity to create new versions of themselves when they step on the track – sometimes quite literally.
Upon joining one of the Mad Rollin’ Dolls roller derby teams, skaters are encouraged to take on a new name when they compete – an aspect of the sport that original Mad Rollin’ Dolls league member Amy Basel, 36, said gives many women the chance to create more aggressive personas for themselves to complement the physical nature of roller derby play.
It was this mentality, Basel said, that helped her to choose “Dolly Pardon Me” as her stage name whenever she skates for Madison’s Vaudeville Vixens.
“When I first started out everyone wanted to have a tough name,” Basel said. “I used to say sorry when I would bump into people [on the track] and someone said, ‘there is no excuse me in roller derby.’ So [Dolly Pardon Me] really came to represent who I was.”
Still, for Basel and the rest of the Mad Rollin’ Dolls, roller derby isn’t just about them. Dickson said she also takes pride in the league’s ability to be positive role models in the Madison community.
During the 1930s when the concept of roller derby first took off, it was marketed more as a performance than a competition. Danielle Dannenberg, 26, of the Unholy Rollers said she believes that the gritty physicality of the sport has evolved over time to play a much-needed role in challenging traditional gender stereotypes.
Resulting in a lot of pushing and shoving between players, the main objective in roller derby is for a designated player from one team – called the jammer – to attempt to lap the other team’s skaters.
According to the league website, part of the inspiration behind roller derby’s recent revival over the last decade was as a way to “inspire other women” and “provide young girls with powerful role models.”
“I think that part of the reason I like it so much is because I feel I certain amount of empowerment that I get on my skates,” Dannenberg said. “Being able to hit [people] and skate around so fast, you almost feel kind of superhuman.”
As the game continues to gain traction, many of the skaters said they hope that more people will continue to see what they see in the sport, pointing to the steady rise in attendance figures since the league was formed – now topping 1,600 fans at many bouts – as a sign of what may be to come.
However, for now, Basel said she is happy with what the Mad Rollin’ Dolls have been able to accomplish, building from scratch a league that is completely owned and operated by the skaters, while also giving women a unique opportunity to participate in something they may never have thought to try before.
“Where else do you get to wear a skimpy little skirt with fishnets and also pound each other as hard as you can”? Basel joked.