The sound of bodies hitting bodies, knee pads slamming into concrete and small rubber wheels squealing reverberates through a converted warehouse as a crowd of nearly a thousand cheers wildly. It's opening night in the docklands of Copenhagen, as the women of the newly formed Copenhagen Roller Derby teams meet each other on the oval track.
These same sights and sounds are repeating across Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and Japan, as roller derby's contemporary revival spreads around the globe. It's an ever-shrinking planet, though, as evidenced by Madison's direct link to two of those new overseas leagues. Ana Killingspree of the Reservoir Dolls team, in the Mad Rollin' Dolls league, recently helped foster the new Copenhagen league, as well as a smaller group in the Danish city of Aarhus.
Killingspree (her derby name) didn't anticipate her role when, in the fall of 2009, she left Madison to spend a year in Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark. She was accompanying her husband while he was on a Fulbright scholarship. Killingspree brought her roller skates along for the ride, "so I could skate around and maybe visit the London roller girls." (London's was the first league outside of North America to become an apprentice member of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association [WFTDA] in 2009.)
Then an Internet post announcing the inaugural meeting of a roller derby group in Copenhagen caught Killingspree's eye. Without calling ahead, she "took the train for three hours and showed up at the meeting."
The meeting showed the diversity of derby women worldwide: There is no one personality or body type, no one background, age or social status when it comes to the players. In Copenhagen, the first women to show up included students, an IKEA executive, local punks - all brought together by the mutual desire to play an all-female, full-contact sport on wheels.
"I was ecstatic," says Killingspree. "I didn't know if it would go anywhere, but I was so happy to see derby popping up in Denmark."
The Copenhagen group was starting from ground zero. "They had a pair of roller skates in the middle of the table and were like, 'What do we do?'" Killingspree recalls. "By the end of that meeting, people were really excited. Afterwards we ordered gear."
From there, her role became that of trainer and sometime advice giver. "They were really generous with helping me get to Copenhagen from Aarhus as often as possible to help with training." Yet Killingspree wanted to be clear that this was their league.
There were a few cultural differences to overcome. Killingspree notes wryly that the Danes were more amenable to what she describes as a "chaotic leadership ideal" than her American approach. "They were not very receptive to this top-down idea, which is not really a derby ethic anyway, but at some point you've gotta have a pivot." A pivot, for those not up on their derby terminology, is the lead blocker - the girl who sets the pace for the rest of the group.
There were other differences in Denmark, too. It turned out that finding practice space was easier than in the U.S. Multiple facilities opened their doors to the league, free of charge.
The league took off from there, with Killingspree able to witness firsthand the opening bout. Since then, the group she helped form merged with another upstart league in the city, played four bouts, and is making plans to travel to other cities for games. "Last month they had an extra practice for new skaters, and they had something like 30 girls show," she notes with pride.
Cooperation among teams and leagues is an ethic the Mad Rollin' Dolls and most other derby organizations hold dear. Madison has a history of reaching out: "We played the first international bout in Canada with Hammer City Rollergirls," Killingspree says. "Team Unicorn [Mad Rollin' Dolls' travel B team] is trying to get the money together to go play in Dublin next year. There are always feelers going out."
Killingspree keeps tabs on her sisters in skates across the pond - Copenhagen is currently working on its application to become a member of the WFTDA's apprenticeship program. The smaller league she helped get started in Aarhus is continuing to grow. She's also focused on defending the Reservoir Dolls' first-place finish last season. She draws inspiration from the lessons learned in Denmark.
"I spent the first little while abroad being consumed with how much I didn't have in common with people [there]," she says. "But that was what was so inspiring to me about derby. You have very different life experiences, different countries, and you can focus on what you have in common and build on those strengths."