‘You can tell a derby girl a mile off,’ laughs Dani Connell, the British founder of Dubai Roller Derby, ‘It’s hard to describe, but there’s just that one same screw loose.’ If you know anything about the sport (through watching Drew Barrymore in Whip It, for example) you might agree.
Roller derby is a full-contact sport played on skates, and the matches – or bouts, as they’re known – involve teams skating fast around a circuit to lap each other (it’s much more complicated that this, but this is the format at its most basic). The bouts are well-known for their ferocity. ‘It’s for girls who love sports, but wouldn’t really fit in on the netball team, and would be a bit too boisterous for badminton,’ Dani attempts to explain.
Though she is at pains to make it clear that both men and women can take part, they can’t play in mixed teams. Since its formation in January, Dubai Roller Derby has largely had women step forward to play, so this is where its focus currently lies. But that’s not to say they haven’t had any interest from men. ‘We do have one guy – he’s a better skater than all of the girls put together – he is going to be our referee. He doesn’t have a clue about the rules, and his wife thinks he’s mental, but I think he’s the only person in Dubai who has quad skates. Everybody else seems to have blades.’
For match sessions, refereeing is essential. The sport is so aggressive, however, that they won’t be moving into competitive mode, ‘for at least a year’. ‘We spend most of the time in the first year falling,’ Dani explains, ‘Every practice we do at least 15 minutes of falling. It sounds ridiculous, but it just gets your body conditioned.’
The idea is to get everyone to learn to fall safely – though a handful ofthe girls are former derby skaters, many of those involved have never played before and they’ve already had a broken finger. Everyone needs to be drilled, because as one of their mottos states, ‘Unless you fall, you’re not going fast enough’.
‘We have complete beginners, girls who are still gripping onto the fence as they go round the outside, but they’re determined and motivated – and I think that’s another defining personality thing in the sport.’ Dani is adamant that anyone who signs up need not have any previous experience or skill. ‘We’re going to be running off-skate training as well, for the girls who don’t have skates or don’t feel comfortable getting on skates just yet, where we’ll build up muscle fitness for skating.’ They’ll also run fitness sessions alongside these, simply for people who want to get in shape, but don’t fancy getting into the contact side of the sport.
Safety is paramount, and Dani is firm that no one will be allowed onto the practice track unless they’re wearing a helmet, wrist guards, elbow and knee pads. As it’s currently difficult to come by quad skates in the Middle East (a problem Dani is working on), they will let people use inline skates or blades as a last resort, until their quad skates arrive from overseas – you’ll need to order them yourself. Dani explains they tend to cost around US$150 for the skates and US$85 for postage, but they will happily advise on which to go for.
If you fancy joining what Dani describes as a ‘unique’ group, she’s more than happy to welcome you to the ‘mish-mash’ of mad derby girls – or help establish a session for the boys. Having a screw loose is optional, but it certainly seems to be a plus.
Dhs30 per session, Dhs175 monthly subscription. Mon and Wed 7pm-8.30pm. Meydan Tennis Academy, Meydan Hotel, www.facebook.com/dubairollerderby (055 889 1725).