Columns Hard Dash by Abigail Curtis

Published on March 26th, 2013 | by DerbyLife


Hard Dash by Abigail Curtis

Northeast Derby Convention Back for Year Two

By Hard Dash

PROVIDENCE, RI — During my 5-hour drive home from the inaugural Northeast Derby Convention last year, my teammates and I felt drunk. A sort of derby-meditative drunk.

“What just happened to us?” one of my teammates said as we got out of my Saturn and stood in the sun outside Dunkin Donuts, trying to get our bearings.

“I don’t know. I’m a different skater today than I was four days ago,” I said.

“We all are,” said my other teammate, Mistress of the Knife.

It ended up being true. In the months after the convention, our entire league had a dramatic, beautiful shove toward derby zen.

The ten of us who went learned things you can’t find on YouTube. I know because I tried. Type-A by nature, I messaged one of the instructors, Smarty Pants, before the conference: “What’s a stutter stop? What does it mean to ‘walk it out’?” She messaged me back that she would show me. And she did. And then I showed 30 women on my league.

Which is what Northeast Derby Convention ended up being about. With about 20 one-hour on-skates sessions with top-notch instructors, there wasn’t a ton of time to perfect any one new skill — but there were 30-minute breaks between each session for note-taking so the 500 or so skaters from dozens of leagues from the East Coast could bring the drills home.

It would be hard to find a better organized event with derby-famous coaches — largely poached from Team USA — and this much skate time for the price.

“Skaters had access to classes taught by world-class coaches like Suzy Hotrod, Quadzilla, Teflon Donna, Smarty Pants, etc. The list of amazing coaches could go on and on,” said Zach Kulak, who worked the booth for Riedell Skates, adjusting sweaty skate after sweaty skate for three days.

Aside from top-notch trainers spending hour after hour going through strategies, footwork and mental game lessons, one major benefit was the 30-minute breaks between the one-hour sessions. That was when skaters grabbed vegan ice cream from a truck outside or stayed on the track to perfect the skills they just learned — though most people seemed to use the time to rest and think about what the hell just happened to them.

“I think the most valuable part [of the conference] was the downtime,” said Teflon Donna, one of the trainers at the conference who is on Team USA and skates for Philly Roller Girls. “There was 30 minutes between sessions that allowed me to answer individual skater questions, to get on the track and mess around with participants, and also opportunities to chat and skate with many of the other trainers there.”

The 500 or so skaters were divided onto three tracks in the massive Rhode Island Convention Center. Because there were four levels of skaters (beginners, intermediate, advanced, elite) the beginners and the elites split track time — the elites could drop down to advanced classes; beginners could watch on or could attend off-skates seminars — of which there were many. Aside from beginners getting a bit less on-skates time, the conference was equitable. The trainers worked in all the levels.

“Skill-level breakdown was a great idea,” said Suzy Hotrod, who taught several jamming classes. “It seemed really organized.”

In conference rooms near the tracks, sneaker-footed derby enthusiasts learned about boot fit from Riedell experts, how to run a great bench, how to structure your league as a nonprofit and more. In all there were about 50 off-skates seminars. With about six hours of on-skate time a day — the off-skates sessions in air conditioned room were a nice respite.

“To me, [the most valuable part of the conference] was the number of extremely valuable off-skates seminars being offered,” said Bonnie D Stroir, a trainer from Team USA and San Diego Derby Dolls. “The mental game got plenty of attention, as did cross training. But there were also new classes like merch profitability and a whole crazy rubric class by Lil Pain on how to prioritize training objectives. Really interesting stuff.”

And for the price, it seemed worth the five-hour drive for me and nine of my frugal leaguemates. How about a breakdown? Skaters who bought the $200 three-day pass got about 20 hours of on-skates training time plus at least three hours of off-skates workouts. That’s less than
$10 a class to learn from several members of Team USA.

Northeast Derby Convention is back for its second year. The convention is May 24-26 in Providence, RI. Three-day MVP passes are $175. For more information visit

Hard Dash, also known as Heather Steeves is a journalist for The Oregonian newspaper. She lives in Portland, OR and skates for the Rose City Rollers.

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