What Do Blockers and Jammers Have To Do With Art?

Yesterday we experienced roller derby for the first time. Our 16 year old has expressed an interest in getting into it, so we surprised her by going to an actual bout. We saw the Dirty South Derby Girls vs the DC Rollergirls face off in Atlanta. It was a really interesting experience. It might have been even more fun had the two teams been better matched in abilities but the Atlanta team definitely had a massive competitive edge, beating out the DC Rollergirls by a mile! Next time, we’ll stay for the second bout, which last night was between really experienced, high-level teams, the Sake Tuyas vs the Toxic Shocks.

 

Roller Derby Dirty South Derby Girls DC Rollergirls Atlanta

Roller Derby Dirty South Derby Girls DC Rollergirls Atlanta

As more of a “solo” or 2 person sports enthusiast myself - I was an avid downhill and water skier, tennis player, archery and riflery buff, horseback rider, skater and swimmer while growing up - I have never understood the pull of competition, and I especially dislike brutal sports such as football and hockey. In fact, I despise violence of any kind- I believe there is enough in the world already without purposefully adding more testosterone into the daily life of humans. I can rant on and on at great, irritating length about the injustice of what football players make in salary, in comparison to what teachers, police, firefighters and other essential services workers make, and the harm that that causes society. What surprised me most about roller derby was that many of my preconceptions about it were completely wrong. It is a far more civilized and structured sport, and far less brutal, than I was expecting! There is a lot of skill involved, and a great deal of respect and fair play. Before the match the team sent over a group of teens my daughter’s age to speak to her about it, and they enthused about how passionate they are for the sport, and how life-changing it had been for a few of them who had been into trouble prior to joining.

Blocking Jammers  

Blocking Jammers  

When I woke up this morning I found myself comparing the roller derby experience to my life as an artist. What a game this career path that chose me, is! One that is at times challenging, often disheartening, a grueling marathon where I am often opposed by someone or something, one day a winner and the next day a (sometimes sore) loser! Both games require skill, patience and teamwork. Art certainly has its share of hurdles; in roller derby the girls who band together to try to stop the other team from breaking through and getting ahead to score points are known as the “blockers”. They make up the majority of the team, they block the other team’s jammer, and they assist their own jammer (I’ll explain the jammer, too!) Artists face blockers in our careers regularly. Sometimes, we block ourselves. Sometimes it is our fellow artists, whose jealousy of our success leads them to exclude, or speak negatively about, us. The art world is rife with nepotism. Lack of money can be a blocker. Lack of technological savvy can be a blocker. Lack of space in which to work can be a blocker. A closed mind or getting mired in the familiar can be a blocker. But, if we have a group of people who are on OUR side and if we block out as much negative coming from the “other side” as possible, that can certainly assist us in our creative path to become the jammer! That is hard for many artists though, as we are often solitary creatures who create in a vacuum. Surrounding ourselves with a support system can be challenging for the solitary creator. Many are downright uncomfortable with being part of a team. I know I work better on my own, but am trying harder to find supportive people to surround myself with and opportunities to give of myself to a group.

 

Jammer and ref roller derby

Jammer and ref roller derby

The jammer is the star in derby…. and, there is always a “star” in the art world! In roller derby the first jammer to get through is the lead jammer. Jammers make their way through the pack. The lead jammer can call off the jam any time by placing their hands on their hips. The jammers sprint around track to catch up with the pack and attempt to score by passing other players. Jammers who break through the blockers go on to score points and are admired for their abilities. There was one jammer last night who really impressed me with her mincing little stop, pivot, jump, skip, sneaky moves! She scored the majority of the points for the Dirty South team without being overly aggressive. Her moves were smart, well calculated and seemed done with little malice or negative intent. Lap the opposing jammer in derby and you get a Grand Slam! Get past your self-imposed blocks and your extrinsic hurdles and you win your own Grand Slam at this game of art!

 

I have much to learn. This life of ours is full of teachable moments. I often tell people that one day I will grow up. One day I might actually “get it right”. But, for now, I am trying valiantly to break through my blockers. I am calculating my moves. I am learning new moves. Maybe, in this game of life, I might be an experienced jammer at some point: having well thought-out breakthroughs that I have executed without harming anyone greatly, done with grace and skill, to go on to some exciting wins. There is much to be learned from derby. So glad I went!