Demolition Derby at TEDx: The ScriptPosted in Project Blog by Juvie
Better Living Through Personal Apocalypse
Flat Track Around the World
Juvie Hall & Cynthia J. Lopez
March 23, 2013
Once upon a time, on planet earth, in a time really not so long ago, one woman set out upon an epic adventure. It was a quest of the gravest importance, a journey that would take her all over the world in search of something that each of us desires: the secret of how to ignite, nurture and shine our own inner light.
Her name was Juvie Hall, and she was a roller derby player in Portland, Oregon. She wasn’t a derby superstar, a villain, or a hero in the derby world. She was just a regular derby player who found awe in derby’s capacity to change women’s lives. It had certainly changed her own.
The derby player Juvie Hall was born on July 4, 2009. But I will let her tell this part…
Much like an actual birth, my derby birth was hot, sticky, kinda gross, and full of uncertainty. Oregon experienced a record-breaking heat wave in the summer of 2009. The temperature hovered around 107 degrees in the metal airplane hangar where my roller derby boot camp was held.
I’d been inspired to sign up after watching a derby bout a few months earlier. It had seemed like so much fun! Everyone looked so happy and sparkly! But as I put on my gear that first day, I couldn’t ignore my own less fun and sparkly reality: I didn’t know how to skate, I had no sports background, and there was a very real chance I might pass out from the heat. The thing I remember most is saying to myself, over and over again, “What the eff am I doing here…?”
At one point, after one of the coaches explained the “giner shiner” and used it as an example of why it’s always better to fall forward than to fall backward on your own skate, I was pretty sure I’d made a poor decision. Add to that the stories we heard about black eyes and broken limbs, and I almost convinced myself to never, ever return to that metal inferno of doom.
I’m still not 100% sure why I went back for the next practice. All I can say is that I felt drawn to it. I just knew I couldn’t give up. Maybe my subconscious recognized the collective wisdom of the women of the league, despite my doubts about whether humans were meant to strap wheels to our feet. After all, if so many women chose to skate, despite the learning curve and the risk of injury, there must be something about derby that was worth it, right?
Collective wisdom…interesting thought! Roller derby is now the fastest growing sport in the world, with leagues in over 40 countries. What could possibly be going on there?
Well now, hold on a minute. Before we speculate on that, I should warn you that the discomfort and uncertainty of her first day of roller derby was nothing compared to what derby still had in store for Juvie.
Derby turned my life inside out. Within two years, I was divorced, had left my career as a lawyer, and had a total identity crisis. Everything major happened at once and I’m not gonna lie; it was a horrible experience. I’m still integrating it all. Funny thing, though—my life only started to get crazy when I realized that I liked myself better when I was at derby than in any other part of my life.
Before derby, I pretty much had the American dream. But somewhere along that path my inner light had gone out. I’d started believing that the labels of wife, attorney, whatever else, were what defined me. I’d become just another over-stressed and under-inspired zombie in a stylish pantsuit.
But when I was at derby, those defining labels disappeared. What I did for a living had no bearing on anything I did there. And likewise, I had no idea what my fellow skaters did for a living, or whether they were married or had children, or any of that. None of it mattered. There was no shorthand to use to pre-judge each other. Instead, we just related to each other in the moment, person to person. What a concept, right?
But what do you do when you’re suddenly faced with a blank slate? When it becomes inescapably apparent that the identity you’d built up for years is meaningless? Personally, I set about completely destroying everything in my life connected to that identity, but without really consciously realizing what I was doing.
Now, the thing people often overlook about the idea of transformation is HOW this happens. It requires crisis, destruction, chaos—something to transcend. Men and women everywhere encounter the destruction of a past life and the experience of struggle—and then you visit the belly of the whale, maybe you hang out with Yoda, and maybe a whole bunch of other stuff happens, and then eventually you emerge into a new self or a new life. It’s the classic hero’s journey, right? The magic thing about roller derby, and the whole reason I’m even telling you this story, is that it so often propels women onto this path. It’s really remarkable that a sport can do this with such regularity.
Even as it launched me into this incredibly difficult personal apocalypse, derby gave me the opportunity to discover what kind of person I really wanted to be. As I shed my old labels, I learned my real capacity for love and trust and compassion. I remembered my sense of humor. I felt more present, more alive than I had in years—probably since childhood. And I felt myself begin to shine again.
Juvie looked at what her life had been, what it could possibly become (as yet unknown), and realized that she was full of gratitude, and relief, and questions. If this personal apocalypse leading to transformation happened for her, and for many derby players that she knew close to home, was it also happening everywhere else in the world that derby reached? In Tasmania, in Tel Aviv, in Lima? What were other women, her derby sisters, experiencing?
Juvie came to suspect that the sport of roller derby contained within it the seeds of revolution and social change. She determined to set out in search of the very soul of roller derby, its essence, its magic. And to make a documentary about this global quest.
And this is where I come into the story. I am a filmmaker without any previous knowledge of roller derby, and was a complete stranger to Juvie. But the moment she told me of her quest, I knew that I would make this film.
What better way to understand what it takes to shine your light in the world, than to look for its source? If derby so often sets women upon a path of transformation, then it must contain some very strong magic. Our film tells the story of the quest to find this magic.
The quest will ultimately take us to nine very different countries, but we started our journey in Mexico .
While we were there, we met women who were going through their own transformations, but with socio-economic differences that at times made playing derby much more challenging, as well as a political culture that was… not super supportive. Here is a bit of what we found:
[Video clip with special footage from Mexico]
In Mexico, we experienced a taste of the power of the international derby community and we were touched by the strength of the sisterhood that welcomed us. We also saw firsthand the huge challenges these women face. In addition to the difficulties of starting a league, finding places to practice and bout, and gathering equipment in a challenging economic environment, these Mexican derby players braved unsafe practice locations, anger and threatening behavior from disgruntled men in their communities, and sometimes scorn from their traditionally conservative and patriarchal society.
And we saw once again the familiar theme of personal apocalypse. The stories of women leaving relationships, quitting jobs, losing touch with friends and activities outside of derby—just generally moving full-speed away from their old lives are innumerable. It sounds grim at first, and we’ve certainly encountered lots of women who, once they set about destroying their old lives, aren’t really sure how to navigate their new ones.
Derby does seem to be exceptionally effective at triggering personal transformations, but it also gives women new tools to restructure their values, their lives and their communities. For all the grim stories of destruction, there are an equal number of women who, like me, say that despite the challenges of their life changes, they ultimately feel stronger, more true to themselves, more alive. Many women, like Dannie and Dulce, and even children, like Maya, were able to translate their derby experiences into overcoming difficulties in other parts of their lives.
And as the women of Mexican roller derby grow in strength and support, they are creating a new and alternative social framework for the next generation and breaking through limiting gender and social stereotypes. Derby is more than just a sport; it’s a new form of social engineering. Derby leagues are started, owned and run by the skaters. These women are creating their own communities out of nothing, totally outside of existing institutions.
And almost invariably, these derby communities are uniquely supportive, diverse, and tolerant. The sport and the community it creates help women learn to balance femininity with strength; to foster physical and mental health and adaptability; and to trust in the power of their own courage, confidence, authenticity, and truth.
This is not just a matter of rebelling against traditional culture. At its heart, roller derby is true revolution. Unlike many other examples of female empowerment movements, roller derby isn’t about women demanding equality or the right to participate in an existing sport or structure. It’s not about beating The Man at his own game. It’s about creating a whole new system based on a fundamentally different set of values.
Will we find the seeds of revolution in every country we visit? In Singapore, Australia, Norway, Peru, Brazil, Russia, France, and Israel? We don’t know yet. Regardless, derby leagues in every country already have something in common: they are satellites of hope for women. All over the world, women are learning how their individual and collective strength can overcome personal and social adversity.
Back in the story…well actually, you’re all caught up.
I’m in the middle of my quest. I haven’t yet found the exact source of roller derby’s magic, but I feel myself getting closer to what I seek, even if sometimes it still feels pretty far away.
The ultimate question is whether the transformational power of derby can be understood and unlocked for everyone to use—on or off the track. As we document derby transformations for our film, as we engage with the international derby sisterhood, as women we have never met before share their stories of personal apocalypse and transformation with us, I have the overwhelming sense that light after light is turning on in the world. And when I think about that, I know I have to have the guts to shine my own light. We all must.
We’re right smack in the middle of the story, so we can’t tell you how it ends. But part of our quest is to find friends along the way and that’s why we’re sharing our story with you. For all seekers, the journey is just as important as finding what is sought. We want all of you to come with us on our journey out into the world; we want you to seek the magic and the light with us.
…but not really!