Interview: Belle Diablo, Windy City Rollers
By Karl Klockars in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 24, 2008 4:52PM
Those rock-‘em sock-‘em Dames of the Derby the Windy City Rollers, return on Saturday night for the 5th season of derby action at the Cicero Stadium on Laramie in Cicero.
What, you ask, is Women's Flat Track Roller Derby? How does the game actually work? Here's the Cliff's Notes version, and suffice to say if you've ever been interested in seeing packs of women skate fast, play hard, and knock each other around in general disregard for each other's well-being, the WCR might be just your speed.
We're still trying to determine which is our favorite out of all the varied WCR names, but at this point, Ava Sectomy and Shirley Temple of Doom are in the front runners. (However, Malice With Chains is pretty damned good as well.) All the skaters in all of their awesome-named glory will be on display and out for blood at 6pm Saturday night.
Belle Diablo, also-awesomely-named WCR skater and general informational commandant for the organization, took some time to explain to us exactly what's in store for the 2008 season, just how damned seriously this sport is, what the status of injured skater Tequila Mockingbird is, as well as how far Cicero is - after the jump.
Chicagoist: It sucks to have to start an interview with this, but do you have any update on how Tequila Mockingbird has been doing?
Belle Diablo: Tequila left her rehabilitation facility recently, and has moved into a new apartment. I don't have much info besides that [but] she's actually doing really well. She has a lot of support around her, not only from her team, The Fury, but also from fans as well as her fiancee and her mother.
They're kinda taking it one day at a time. She does still have a lot of medical bills that need to be paid at this point, and a website was actually put together by her team called helptequila.com, and that actually has updates on her, as well as a link to her Paypal to make donations, as well as there's some merchandise on there that you can purchase, with all proceeds going to Tequila.
She's in a wheelchair at this time, and she's still uncertain whether or not she will walk again. But she's a strong person and really feels in her heart that she will walk again.
C: I know places like Kuma's have been really good at putting together donations.
BD: Kuma's has consistently been completely wonderful. Their servers and bartenders have donated their tips [and salary]- I think it's the last Friday of every month where they do this... There's also been a fundraiser at Smart Bar for Tequila as well, and I know that The Fury as well as Windy City Rollers are looking into doing some kind of fundrasier at some point this year, with all benefits going towards Tequila.
C: The WCR opens their season on Saturday night. Are there going to be any major changes from last season? Or is it going to be more of what we've come to know and love?
BD: Well, I think the level of competition this year is going to be at an all-time high. We have a team called the Hell's Belles, which I'm on, and we've been to the Championship twice the past two years and have not won. So there's something to prove there. We have another team called the Manic Attackers who didn't win any games last season.
And then we have two teams, the two time Ivy King Cup champions The Fury, and then last year's champions, the Double Crossers, who are going head to head at this first game. So it'll be really something for these two teams to meet. They have a past history - an old rivalry from the first season where they went to the championship and the Fury won that game.
I think the level of competition at this point is really high. There's a little bit of history there with all these teams, and they've been training really really hard, because everyone wants a chance at that ring. I think that if anything, the level of gameplay is going to be extremely fierce.
C: When I talk to girls who skate in WCR, they always impress on me the fact that roller derby is a real sport.
BD: It's very true. You have to think that these women practice three to five days a week, for two plus hours, and you form this bond with your team. This will be my fourth season, and some of [the rest of ]us have been playing for that long; it's kind of to the point where we've got a lot of skill and it needs to be rewarded in some way. You can only playing so long without winning something. [laughs] We take this all very seriously not only because we like to win, and we think it's important to show the fans how good of a team each of us has, but also on a national level we are really trying to make roller derby a legitimate sport.
We want people to recognize that that's what it is. When we talk about roller derby some people might still think that it's short skirts, silly girls picking fights and beating up on each other. It's just become so much more than people perceive it to be. It's something that's very, very, very important to us. And we try our best to let everybody know exactly what roller derby is, and how important it is to us and to the 75 other girls that participate in it.
C: I think people still have the idea that this is a mock-sport pro-wrestling kind of thing, whereas most don’t realize how seriously you take it.
BD: It is. It's really hard to get that across to people, and I understand why. You know, the first year at the Congress [Theater], we very much played into that whole "come see us in fishnets and we're punk rock and we have bruises and you might catch a tush or two."
But I think that after seeing what that was, and seeing how much time we actually put into it, it really was difficult to negotiate...do we want people to take us seriously? Or do we want to put on a show for people? And I think we've found a really great balance. The teams are getting more and more away from the kitsch and we're showing people that hey - we put a lot of time into this, and we train very hard.
We take care of our bodies and we're constantly pushing ourselves to the limit, and we are involved nationally to legitimize all of this. It's difficult sometimes when you talk to people and they're all "oh, roller derby. Don't you wear short skirts and pick fights and everything is predetermined like wrestling?" That's not true for us. It's always fun to educate people on what roller derby is these days, but at the same time we're constantly battling this stigma of us not being a real sport.
C: At the same time, there is a certain level of kitsch, and fun. And that draws people in, and I don’t know if I’d want to see a huge move away from that.
BD: Oh, totally. And it's always fun to be able to wear a pair of hotshorts skating. It's comfortable, one, but most of the girls look good in them! That's definitely a great thing. And monikers instead of real names, I mean - I go out there and skate as Belle Diablo. I know at one time people had talked about changing that.
If we want people to take ourselves seriously, why do we skate under these derby monikers, why don't we skate under our real names. I definitely think there's a healthy balance. And I like the balance that we have now. We may get people into the door because they're like "ooh, what's this?" I think though, that what proves that our league is successful, and that roller derby is making a real comeback, is that we have fans that are consistent and they recognize the level of dedication that we put towards this all.
And they recognize that this is a truly athletic event. It's to the point where people are getting involved with other sports now because they're like, "Wow, this is a real sports experience! And I think I might like hockey, or I might like football, because I never knew that I could get so into something like this."
C: What’s the biggest misconception about WCR skaters? Is it that you're all a bunch of angry, butched-out SuicideGirl bruisers?
BD: I think that that definitely is a misconception. People think we're all bartenders or we're all heavily tattooed, or it's a punk rock subculture or something. And it's just not. If you look at the makeup of our girls, we have lawyers, we have teachers, we have business owners that participate, physical therapists...there are people from all walks of life that are involved in this sport. What you would call "professionals," every day working professionals.
And then we still people who have multiple tattoos, but they are vastly outnumbered by those who don't. I think that because of where roller derby started and who it started with, that's always going to be something that's paired with it as being this punk rock revival, but it's really moving away from that and who it's encompassing.
I think that's great, because it's very diverse, and it's the only way this league actually runs properly. Because we have a lot of people who have professional backgrounds that can 1) network, and 2) know how to run a business. So I think that misconception is there, but once people come and meet the players, it's blown out the window.
C: I think another big misconception is that where you skate in Cicero is a million miles away.
BD: Oh my god, yes! If everyone could know that Cicero is literally 5 minutes away and would probably take you less time to get there from the north side of the city to the south side of the city, that would be great! It is a huge misconception - it's probably the easiest place to get to, and people, I think when they hear Cicero, they think of some way-off suburb 75 miles away and it's just not.
C: Well, it’s not that far away, but people hear “Cicero” and immediately think it’s out of the way of public transportation, you have to have a car to get there, and so on.
BD: We really do understand that, and we understand that people think that, so we have tried to make it as easy as possible. It's right off the Pink Line, at the last stop, 54th and Cermak. Then also we have a party bus that leaves from our afterparty spot, Cobra Lounge. You can get on that for $8 round trip, so from Cobra Lounge to the stadium in time to get great seats, and then they take you back there to hang out with the girls afterwards. It's a really great deal.
C: I’ve also heard that WCR has talked with UIC to come back into the city.
BD: Do you want to talk to them for us? [laughs]
C: I’d be happy to – but I don’t think I have the pull to get a liquor license in there, which I believe was the sticking point.
BD: I overheard that they were in talks with the city to get licensed to have beer there on a regular basis; I believe the problem is that they're a school and don't want to promote alcohol. We actually have talked to them before, we would really like to move back to the city - that's the goal.
The goal has always been, you know, to be the Windy City Rollers, located in the Windy City. As of right now, I couldn't say what's going on with that. It's a dream of ours, and [UIC] is a great venue for us and has a lot of potential; it's hopefully something that's going to happen sooner rather than later. But it definitely won't be this year.
C: You guys are going to have a push for new members at some point as well.
BD: We're always taking inquiries for recruitment. We only recruit once a year, though. It's most likely that our recruitment will take place in June, right after our season. We're launching our new website on the day of the first game. That new website will have information on how to get in touch with us about recruitment.
It'll also be updated on a daily basis, it'll have a lot of great features like a feedback forum, and a message board where fans can talk to other fans about the Rollers, as well as skater bios and all kinds of information about publicity as well as sponsoring us as well.
Other info would most likely include the fact that tickets to Saturday's bout are $15 in advance, $20 at the door, and VIP for $25. Doors are at 5pm, game starts at 6, and there are no cash machines on site so plan ahead. Images from the WCR website, as well as helptequila.com and the WFTDA.
[Ed note: It is impossible to over-state how fun and exciting watching the WCR is. I saw the single greatest sports-comeback moment of my life at a bout last year.]