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Hands on her hips with a stiff upper lip: Roller derby Bruise Cruise

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By Samuel Sveen, contributor

BOZEMAN – Check out a women’s Flat Track Roller Derby bout, and you’ll see the high-speed hits of hockey made around a roller rink by strong, empowered women.

The Aug. 25 ‘Bruise Cruise’ bout under the Haynes Pavilion did not disappoint the sold-out Bozeman crowd. Versus the Jackson Hole Juggernauts in red, the black-clad Gallatin Roller Girlz began strong and ended stronger, a final score of 194 to 67. Gallatin jammers busted through the pack to score all those points, ending several jams early, signaling with their hands on their hips.

Local radio DJ celeb Missy O’Malley kept the evening lively with her musical selections and feisty commentary. A quiet young man kicked off the bout with a distorted, Hendrix-esque “Star Spangled Banner” on electric guitar. Fans dressed according to the theme of the 1970s TV show ‘Love-Boat’ gained access to track-side ‘suicide seating,’ and a halftime costume contest judged a man covered in an array of floral patterns to be the winner. Chicks with Sticks also entertained during the intermission, a drum line of women banging in unison on five-gallon buckets.

In knee-high socks and helmets, 10 derby girls raced around an oval track on four-wheeled roller skates, shoving and blocking each other while one ‘jammer’ from each team attempted to lap all the others. One-hour ‘bouts’ match two opposing leagues in a series of 2-minute ‘jams’ on the time clock. The lead jammer reserves the right to end a jam session early for strategy.

With skaters ranging in age from 23 to 40, issues of feminism and equality are old hat to derby players. The focus is instead simply on strength and confidence in their bodies and minds. The track provides an alternative space for skaters, reflected in their flashy wardrobes and alter-ego names. More than 14,000 unique nicknames and numbers are registered and copyrighted under; some of the Gallatin Girlz names include Angry Amy, Tornado Juice, and Whip Her Snap Her.

Invented in the 1930s by Leo A. Seltzer (a Helena native), popularized in the 1970s by theatrical skating (and fighting) on film, and resurged in the early 2000s by Texans, women’s roller derby is very much back in action. More than 1,000 leagues worldwide abide by the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby official rule set—some 50 pages worth standardizing track regulations, equipment specifications, and proper contact techniques.

Our own Gallatin Roller Girlz are among six other leagues in Montana, the others out of Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, Missoula, and two in Billings.

With a fleet of more than 40 jammers, blockers, and ‘fresh meat’ (new skaters not yet ready for competition), the Gallatin Roller Girlz are the Bozeman incarnation of Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby. Their mission: “Helping women achieve athletic goals and personal growth through the sport of roller derby.”

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