Roller derby goes to the circus for West End celebration

By Meredith Richard •Correspondent •

Ithaca Journal
September 12, 2010

In conjunction with the Second annual Rhiner Festival, the Ithaca League of Women Rollers threw out its derby rule book to present the Rhiner’s Brawl at Cass Park Rink.

Guests gathered at the rink before the show to enjoy the circus-like atmosphere complete with face-painting, balloon twisting and costumed acrobats. Some attendees arrived in their Rhiner Fest ensembles, while others came just to see the Brawl.
An old-time brass band provided the soundtrack as the two teams warmed up for the main event.

“We’re excited about having something new in Ithaca, and excited to hear the live music,” said local resident Mark Finnigan.

The Rhiner’s Brawl added a new twist to traditional roller derby with its circus performers and creative costumes. The two teams, The Tailed and The Tutu’d, were outfitted for the affair with feline accessories and colorful ballet skirts, respectively.

“I’ve never seen circus roller derby before,” said attendee Arlene Vogel.

The rollers stayed in character throughout the event; The Tailed girls took cat-like strides around the rink, while The Tutu’d team members sashayed through the course with the occasional on-skate arabesque. In the spirit of the carnivalesque
environment, the participants seemed more focused on showmanship than on the prospect of victory. The race differed from most derby matches in that there was no penalty box, and heckling clowns mediated the action.

Overall, the event offered a well-received addition to the lineup for Rhiner Festival, a daylong celebration of Ithaca’s turn-of-the-20th century waterfront squatter neighborhood’s heritage. Many guests had heard of roller derby before, or seen it on
television, but took this opportunity to enjoy the sport firsthand. The costumes and bantering announcers made the race feel more easy-going than the average derby match, rendering the occasion more like a festival than a serious sporting event. The carnival booths and performers made the experience family-friendly, and some youngsters took the opportunity to try derby skating on the sidelines.

“We’ve always wanted to drop by one of these events, but this is the first time we’ve had the chance. The Rhiner Fest looked like a lot of fun, and we’ll try to go next year,” said resident Wing Eng, who brought his whole family to the Brawl.