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Roller Derby Experiencing All-Female Resurgence

The D.C. Demon Cats, an all-women's roller derby team, huddle before their opening match of the season
The D.C. Demon Cats, an all-women's roller derby team, huddle before their opening match of the season

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Mana Rabiee

Roller derby is an American-invented contact sport that goes back to the 1800s. The modern version of the sport is often played by all-female teams. The women who play demonstrate the physical prowess of men, but they see themselves as femmes fatales.

These are the ladies of the D.C. Demon Cats - an all-women's roller derby team from a Washington-area league called the D.C. Roller Girls. They're two-time regional champions, and tonight is the opening bout of the season.

Derby consists of two teams of five players. They simultaneously play offense and defense as they skate around the track. A designated player from each team tries to skate past members of the opposing team, while they try to knock down her teammates.  For every opponent she passes, she scores a point.

"I'm going out there to block, to knock people down," said Meagan Henry of the D.C. Demon Cats.  "I mean, that's what I'm doing.  When I'm here, when I'm doing roller derby, that's who I am."

Roller derby is part athleticism and part entertainment.  The game uses lots of music to make the matches more intense.  But women's derby, in particular, is where beauty meets brawn.

"We're fighting really hard," added Henry.  "We're working together really well. We're adjusting strategy and we're going to go out there and win this."

And Derby is also part theatrics. The women use costumes and make-up to create fantasy personas. They use stage names that convey both destruction and femininity - names like "Velvet Landmine" and "Wham Slam Bambi."

"You want to look good and show off your skills but when it comes right down to it it's really about the athleticism and not about the glamour," noted Demon Cats teammate Camille Morin who skates under the name "Camilla the Hun."  "There are a lot of roller girls who just want to dress up and have fun and they don't remain roller girls for very long."

Fans say they come for the action. But derby is also a place where young girls can find athlete role models who do not otherwise fit a typical mold.

"We're definitely fringe," noted Morin.  "We are on the outside of what is considered normal female behavior but this is why we do it. We don't want to be normal. We want to play an aggressive sport and we still want to be women and have fun with it too".

The D.C. Demon Cats won this game 126 to 87. If they continue like this, they'll be defending their regional title at the 2011 season Championship games next May.

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