The two dozen women preparing to take to the training floor claim an assortment of day jobs. Among them are office workers, a teacher, several bartenders, a commercial real estate manager, a pastry chef, and a professional dominatrix. A few are mothers. But on the two nights a week that they drive from as far away as San Jose to practice as rock music blares inside a cavernous hangar at the former Alameda Naval Air Station, they assume tough-girl alter egos with skate names to match. There are Surly Vixen, Annie Agony, Midwest Mangler, Holly Terror, Ghoulina, and Faster Pussycat, but no Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.
"Hey, check this out, dude," says Melissa Chamberlain, 28, aka Miss Moxxxie, a fashion merchandiser at the Gap. She loosens her belt and unselfconsciously drops her jeans to reveal a set of nasty bruises that arc downhill from her pink candy-striped panties. As the other women gather round, Christina Henderson, 23, a lanky grade-school teacher who skates under the name SkAtOmAsoChIsT, joins in the show. "Look at these," she says. In a flash, she, too, lowers her pants and swivels her hips to expose blue and brown welts on her right thigh. After all, what good are skate trophies if you can't share them?
This isn't your daddy's roller derby, the perennially popular blue-collar slugfest-on-skates ubiquitous on local TV back when many baby boomers were still teenagers. (Think: San Francisco Bay Bombers.) Original roller derby, the banked-track spectacle with its matched teams of men and women, choreographed moves, and campy infield brawls from which the World Wrestling Federation borrowed shamelessly, ran its course in the 1970s, despite numerous attempts to revive it.
The Derby Girls are a different breed.
They're in the vanguard of some 28 female-only roller derby leagues that have sprung up in cities across the country, many of them within the past year. A few, including ones in New York, Los Angeles, and Austin -- where the all-girl craze got started -- are regularly drawing 1,000 or more fans to bouts at skating rinks and transformed warehouses. The women skate on teams with names like Holy Rollers, French Kiss Army, and Putas del Fuego (Spanish for "Fire Whores"). Short skirts and fishnet hosiery are the costumes of choice. Cheap beer flows, and punk rock or (in Texas) rockabilly bands typically perform between halves of skating, as well as after bouts.
Thus far it is an alternative-sports phenomenon that has remained under the mainstream radar. But things may be about to change. The A&E cable network is set to unveil a reality TV show this fall or early next year built around the Lone Star Rollergirls, one of the Austin leagues. A Las Vegas hotel is reportedly having a banked track built for a future Sin City Rollers attraction. And in recent months the all-girl troupes, including the Derby Girls, have fielded inquiries from the Pabst Brewing Co. -- a prime sponsor of roller derby in its heyday -- about potential marketing deals, several of the groups say.
"In [original] roller derby it was really the women who drew the crowds and the men who made it feel legitimate, so maybe the women's time has finally come," says former roller derby godfather Jerry Seltzer, 73, of Sonoma. Seltzer broke the hearts of derby fans in 1973 when he abruptly shuttered the old Intercontinental Roller Derby League, which for most of two decades was based in the Bay Area. It was his late father, Leo Seltzer, the league's original owner, who founded the sport in 1935.
With their rebel personas, body piercings, tattoos, and party-hardy lifestyle, the Derby Girls are as much subculture phenoms as skaters. They've yet to find a permanent skate venue, are still months away from real competition, and haven't even divided into teams yet. But they've generated a buzz with their own glam calendar featuring sexy photos of a different Derby Girl for each month of the year; they have their own Web site (bayareaderbygirls.com); and they attract male and female admirers who are forever posting adoring messages on their Internet listserv.
Although they've yet to settle on which of various permutations of roller derby rules to play by, like any self-respecting bad girls, they've already adopted a group hand-sign, dubbed "The Shocker," which one of them colorfully describes as "two in the pink, one in the stink." Achieved by hiding the thumb and ring finger, "the Shocker allows for the index and contiguous digit to penetrate the vagina, while the pinkie attends to the rear," explains Andrea Bozeman, 23, aka Iva Vendetta, a Web content writer with a master's degree in English literature from the University of Chicago.
The women have also picked up the endorsement of original roller derby's most famous bad girl, Ann Calvello, 75, of San Bruno, whose green hair and quixotic temper during a four-decades-long career have helped make her an icon within the all-girl derby milieu. (Teams in one of the Texas leagues play for the Calvello Cup.) She showed up to offer her best wishes at a recent Derby Girls benefit held at a San Francisco nightspot; it raised $5,000 for the budding league. Much of the money came from a "spanking booth" in which male fans lined up for hours for a chance to pat scantily clad Derby Girl bottoms at $1 a pop. "I don't know if these girls are roller derby's future," says Calvello, "but I sure as hell like their style and what they're trying to do."