“These are gezellig, no?” asked one of the girls. Using the beloved Dutch term to describe something that's cozy, amiable, or simply that warm fuzzy feeling, she flicked a pair of crusty cut socks across the table. “Without putting those on before you bout,” said Jen — the president of the Amsterdam Derby Dames — grabbing at the limpy, makeshift skate-toe covers, “you’ll go through a pair of skates reallllllly fast.”
These Dutch are a funny bunch — mostly of a nationally conservative, straight-laced mindset and no bullshit mentality, they still do enjoy their fun, namely of the gezellig variety: i.e. small cafes, warm pubs and a quiet evening with friends. I had to laugh. Something tells me that a hoard of screaming women on skates — especially in stinky socks — would not typically be defined as gezellig by the average tight-lipped Dutch man.
I hopped on tram 14 last Thursday night, armed with a map big enough to wrap my soggy bod in and an address of an elementary school gym. Somewhere at the end of the line waited the Amsterdam Derby Dames; between us, 16 stops and the woman next to me that reeked of wet dog.
Earlier in the day I had received an e-mail back from Jen, their Dutch-born team president with a Texas twang (seriously, talk about them apples), inviting me to come to their practice for a chitchat. We were going to talk details about my practicum, my internship component of this semester. Because I’m focusing on sport sociology, I thought what better way than to kill two birds with one stone: a) get a head start on my independent research and b) live vicariously through them and my love of all things bloody, bruised and bedazzled?
After hopping off the tram and splaying this ridiculous map across the sidewalk (how I didn’t laughed at or mugged is beyond me), I meandered past a few swing sets and behind a building where Jen met me at the door. Inside were about 10 other girls getting booted up — expats of all kinds — all equally clad in stripes, tattoos and sass and greeting me with, “ohh hallooo!”s and “where are you from?”s and more importantly, “are you here to skate?!” I was bear-hugged by two other American gals (another of the Texan variety, and one from New Hampshire who lives in spitting distance from me at home) and then gave them my schpeel about why I was there, soaking wet in a pink rain jacket and sans wheels.
My project topic isn't totally nailed down yet — there is still a lot of discussion to be done with my advisors and such... but going off of my capping project, I'm aiming for photo component in conjunction with the required 50ish page paper. My interest is in 'doing gender,' in the derby world but I haven't nailed down in which way I want to look at it yet. But, now that I've been given the green-light and can entrench myself within their ranks, it'll give me a better feel of the make up of this crazy roller derby world and how these women function in it.
And they were AWESOME. On the sidelines we talked music and shared stories of war wounds and discussed the Amsterdam life. A year ago, they were the first team in Holland; now, there are seven or eight others. They told me how their first skates were made out of army boots with wheels attached because the skate shops didn't carry what they needed, and how they now have a waiting list to join the Fresh Meat — the rookie — group. A reporter came to talk to them a little bit after I had arrived. Though they seemed to have these larger-than-life personalities, they were humble and spoke passionately to her about the derby sport. "We're a bunch of misfits," one girl mentioned. It was cool to see: that these kids from around the world somehow all ended up in this tiny school auditorium, dressed in tutus and loving the fact that they had found their perfect niche. I hoping I've found one too.