Image by Joe Medolo
Knowing, befriending, going to the gym with, or at least partying with a Derby Dame is an essential right of passage for Bostonians of young and adventurous ilk. Unlike Celtics players who make occasional Back Bay cameos but who are otherwise invisible, the Dames live and play among us; when members of the Hub’s beloved quad squad aren’t smashing opponents as their pugilistic alter-egos (Catherine the Irate, MC SlamHer), they’re our roommates, co-workers, and homegirls. For that reason, it was of concern to the Dig community last year when the club’s more than 90 skaters were squeezed out of their longtime practice space in Somerville. And so on the heels of the Derby Dames home opener for their 10th season at Shriners Auditorium in Wilmington last Saturday, we asked Katherine “Space Invader” Rugg to update us on the newly-relocated, “all-female, DIY, skater-owned-and-operated flat track roller derby league,” and about the apparent booming popularity of the sport in general.
CF: From the outside looking in, it seemed like losing your old practice facility was a tough card to be dealt. What was it like up close?
SI: We didn’t have a whole lot of time to find a new location … We ended up having to rent a few skating rinks [in the interim], and held practices at some different places until our search committee finally found a place for us in Lynn.
CF: I’ve always known that you all take it seriously, and that the elite team even travels, but I didn’t realize that you were official to the point of having a “search committee,” things like that.
SI: We have an executive board that handles finances—they handle any agreements that affect the business. They make decisions, like how much we can spend on rent. When we lost the space in Somerville, [there were] some great recommendations from the public … At the same time we’re still an amateur sport, we don’t have large funding. Our governing body isn’t making money.
CF: With so many skaters, and different teams, and a traveling team, why is it important to have a central space?
SI: When the Derby Dames started in 2005, we didn’t have anything like that. There were times when we went from rink to rink and were skating outdoors, so we know those challenges. Now we’re also running a business, so it’s important to have everything in one location. We want to have a positive space for women to grow, and we also have the Boston Junior Derby, which was founded by one of our skaters. Because of that, it’s really important for them to be in a safe place with their families.
CF: The Dames have grown significantly over the past several years, even with setbacks. [Under the Derby Dames banner, there are currently “four home teams, two travel teams,” and “a recreational travel team [and] a farm system that helps up-and-coming skaters realize their potential and acclimates transfers from other leagues.”] Are you gradually becoming a professional operation?
SI: We’re doing a lot of traveling, more than usual … We do have some sponsors for our events, but the skaters are self-supported, and have to pay dues. It’s less of a performance at this point and more of an athleticism. It’s not a professional sport, but it’s professional.
CF: Are you finally situated in the new space?
SI: It’s been interesting. It’s under construction, so it feels like we’re starting something new, which is a good thing. It feels like everyone has a positive outlook. For our travel teams, which play against other leagues outside of Boston, we are travelling more than usual, going to Pittsburgh, then to Oregon. We also just came back from tournament in Toronto.
CF: So is this one of those coming back from adversity stories?
SI: Our team bonding feels like it’s a really positive year. I don’t know if it’s a part of losing our space, but it’s definitely there.
ED. NOTE: The print version of this week’s DigBoston (with the Derby Dames featured on the cover) mistakenly had an image of a member of the Green Mountain Derby Dames. We regret the error, but are excited to have Boston Massacre Derby Dame Shark Week on our new cover (below) …
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.