In Autumn 2011, our head of PR was approached by the London Olympics committee. They wanted skaters in the opening ceremonies, and we were apparently a perfect choice due to the fact that we can already skate and are heavily based in East London where the Games were to be held.
Up until this moment, my feelings towards the Olympics had been completely different. I was the girl smoking behind the bike sheds at during PE at school, and until I discovered Roller Derby in early 2009 I was completely indifferent to all sports and exercise. I’d even considered sub-letting my room during the summer and jetting off somewhere sunny with the other Britons who want to avoid this month long rush hour.
But now we were going to be involved, I was excited! We would literally be the first ever roller girls to skate inside an Olympic stadium!
Visions of spandex
The December audition was a difficult date as some of our girls were competing in the first Roller Derby World Cup in Toronto. The girls who were around showed up not really knowing what to expect.
We’d been handed a skills evaluation with 5 options, from ‘never skated’ to professional dancers who had ‘skated in front of an audience’. Even though, like the Olympians, Roller Derby is an amateur sport, there simply wasn’t an option for someone who trains and competes internationally at a roller sport.
The casting crew started by taking our measurement, including heads and hands (which gave me visions of spandex unitards covered in sequins). Led by a lady who’d skated in Starlight Express (more visions of sequin costumes keep popping into my head), we did some basic warmups and choreography followed by a roller disco. We were busting out some awesome whips but I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty intimidating watching the jam skater boys. Yes, I can stomp on your crotch, but I cannot pirouette on wheels for toffee!
Five months later we got the results of the audition. Though all our girls were accepted, some declined after seeing the schedule. Most of the rehearsals were on practice days and also clashed with FOUR bout days. Lord knows how I’m going to fit derby in! The whole situation started to stress me out before it had even really begun.
But there was one reward, better than the spandex and the sequins. Better than my mum seeing me on TV – we get a pre-paid zone 1-6 oyster card!!! Easily pleased? YES! Don’t care? YES! Free travel across London for 3 months? WOOT WOOT!
Everything is revealed…
After auditioning in December, our first rehearsal was on March 20th. Rumours were flying around in the queue that someone knew a dancer and she’d heard that we were going to be monsters sneaking up on children in beds or something like that.
Monsters on skates! This was about the best news a girl could hear stood in the rain on a Friday night!
We went in and we were issued with our oyster cards. They only had £50 on them. What the WHAT? Oh well, I’m just gonna use mine until it runs out and pray they give me a new one…
We were given some sexy swamp green bibs and sat in numbered chairs to watch a storyboard. The rumours were true, there were some beds and children involved, and I also spy baddies…maybe even Monsters…
Sam, our dance coach and ex-Starlight Express cast member taught us the first part of a dance routine, and then we had to line up and show off any tricks we could do, wearing brand new pairs of artistic skates. I love a freebee but the harsh reality of having to break in the second pair of skates this year was dawning on me. And not only that, they were hideous! Camel coloured suede with a fleecy lining!
After a sweaty first practice, we were looking to find the nearest watering hole, but had to settle for a can of cider on the tube. Who should we bump into at the station but our dance coach, who’d been to the stadium and warned us the surface was covered in little bumps that will be really annoying to roll over. Why, we asked, surely she’d been the skating advisor?
Well…they’d asked her how best to deal with the rain. WTF? RAIN? Rain and wheels simply don’t compute for me as an indoor skater. Yes it’s true she explained, and there was a definite chance of us not being able to skate at all.
As we bid her goodnight, and advised her to go to Skate Attack to buy the best outdoor wheels (tax) money could buy, I thought about what a huge commitment this is for something that might not even happen for us…
Dementors and Nurses
It was 4 rehearsals when the reality of missing so much derby, and life, had begun to seriously bother me. But apparently the choreography we’ve done so far is the hardest part, so that’s a relief. It’s a very fast lindy hop dance with a partner, lots of turning and spinning which will look good on skates, but it’s a million miles away from roller derby!
I had another emotional rollercoaster last week, when in costume fitting I was told that I was going to be a dementor. Woooah! I hoped I’d be a baddy, and a baddy that wears a long hooded cloak and sucks out people’s souls through their
mouth is pretty much the best thing ever. But of course when I handed my skates back at the end of the evening to the costume lady, she told me she’d actually got my bib number wrong – serves me right for bragging about it all night to the girls.
The following night – these were our first back to back training sessions, and I can tell you, by the end of the second night I was so frustrated I had had about enough – I had my actual costume fitting. Still pretty cool, it was a very very old school NHS nurses uniform. Like 1920’s old school. Big white petticoat, big blue dress with puffy sleeves, and a little white apron. A sort of formal Alice in Wonderland.
Apparently we will be joining around 850 other nurses and 400 children, who will be jumping around on massive bed shaped trampolines. Not all the nurses will be skaters, there are only about 50 of us, but there will be all kinds of dancers on feet.
We met Danny Boyle for the first time too, which was pretty cool. Although I’m one of 10,000 Olympic ceremony faces to him. I still say hi.
So I’ve just come from our derby league meeting, which we have every 6 months or so, and I’ve come to accept the fact that I might actually have to spend 3 months on probation afterwards, and what a sacrifice every league member is making for us to come to these practices and miss out on training and bouts.
We’re derby girls to the core, and most of our rehearsals seem to clash perfectly with training nights. It SUCKS, not to put too fine a point on it, but all I know is that I would rather regret something that I’m doing, than regret something I didn’t do.
I think I will be happy to tell people for the rest of my days that I did the Olympics and it was cool as hell, and the biggest audience we will ever skate in front of (something like 1 billion are estimated to watch it) but right now it’s a struggle not to consider packing it in.
But I might just be being a moaning Millie as my feet hurt, and it’s real had to stay happy when your feet hurt.
Welcome to Dagenham
As the rehearsal schedule went to full weekends, we were moved from the TV studios we’d been in so far to the old Ford factory in Dagenham. It’s covered in lovely smooth tarmac perfect for skating, and they’ve put up a massive circus tent which looks suspiciously like Reading Festival’s lock-up stage.
I’ve missed the last couple of weeks due to rain (cancelled as the whole area was flooded) and Download festival (well I was at Download, but all the other Rockin’ Rollers were winning against the Dublin Rollergirls, and hosting our first ever bootcamp). So here’s a quick catch up.
Basically two of our girls are going to be dementors
alongside the jam skaters, which is looking really cool, but Red N Roll, Demolition Darcy, me and 6 others are going to be carrying FIRE! Yep, that’s right, pyro technics on skates!
As far as the rehearsal today went, I think it was the best one to date! We had some run throughs that actually gave me goose bumps. Children doing backflips on hidden trampolines, breakdancers, tap dancers, skating monsters and skating dancers, and it looks like it’s all coming together.
Also Danny Boyle has been coming by, just chatting and explaining his concept of the NHS section to us. We’ve spent so much time being directed through radio headsets, by people we can’t see up in a tower, that having him coming round in person and explaining his vision is great for morale.
There’s also a rumour among the real NHS nurses that Red N Roll is Danny Boyle’s daughter, which is pretty funny.
Grass, trapdoors and soggy carpet
When we moved to the stadium it was pretty cool to see the set, and the props and puppets coming together. The grassy banks have started to bloom into multi-coloured wild flowers and looks like a meadow I would like to roll about in. We’ve also spotted bubble machines and puppets and trapdoors and all kinds of things.
Skating in the stadium is hard though, because they’ve covered everything in varying layers of thick soggy black carpet.
In a way the carpet is great because it means we will be skating rain or shine, but considering its rained through April, May, June and the beginning of July so far, we don’t look like graceful gliding nurses – more like we’re trying to have a fight with a cross trainer.
With changes to the choreography, the floor, the schedule, and lack of changes to the food, people are becoming more and more frustrated as are our dance captains. I don’t know any of us that haven’t had a cry and considered leaving.
One of us may have even taken her skates off to throw them, in one of the best diva strops I’ve ever seen!
Also because it’s been so wet, they haven’t had time to teach us how to use the pyrotechnics, so I’m pretty positive it will be cut *sobs*.
After getting over the state of the stadium floor, we’re into the final few rehearsals, and dress rehearsals.
All this time, we’ve just been fannying around the stadium like we own the joint and skating anywhere we like but from today onwards, we will be in a holding area for most of our 10 hour day. This means that we’ll only get one runthrough in a full day of rehearsal.
By now we’re wearing our dresses and aprons, and also getting taught the hair and make up style to go with the vintage nurse costumes. Black eye liner, red lips, big lashes, victory rolls, finger waves…not a difficult look to pull off for our Rockin’ Rollers!
Stuff started to get really crazy in the main volunteer tent (later to be dubbed ‘The Diva Tent’) where massive queues for hair and makeup led to a few bad tempers. Fortunately we’d been put in the small tent with all the professional dancers, which was a little like “Fame” with all the stretching and dance offs.
Eating the same lunch of sandwiches, apples and crisps was starting to get pretty monotonous to say the least, and the long hours in hair and make up without actually doing much of anything were getting to us all a little bit. But as the end came into sight we finally started to enjoy ourselves again. The rain seemed to be dying off for the first time in about 3 months, and we were taking an opportunity to flash our famous London Rockin’ Rollers y-fronts for all the photos.
Rehearsals…and the real thing
Monday 23rd July was our first of three tech rehearsals and 60,000 people were there in the stadium (apparently Hackney council were giving away tickets in a competition).
I can tell you, waiting to go out with a crowd that size waiting to go out was super terrifying, but once the cherry was popped, I was even more excited about the Wednesday when the stadium would be filled with our friends and family!
I don’t care about the 1 billion expected to watch the final thing, but knowing my mum was in the crowd at the dress rehearsal was both terrifying and extremely emotional, and to mess up in front of her would have been awful – not to mention my boyfriend, sat next to her, would never have let me live it down.
By Friday 27th we were old hands. The day was filled with photos and e-mail exchanges, and hugs, and pants out, (and trying not to think about the 1 billion) and I have to say, that even though we only ended up being on TV for a second, it was all worth it, and I remember feeling like a total rock star. Until I was skating back to the holding area and fell over a drain in front of the Olympic athletes! *sigh*…
The opening ceremony was over, the games had begun, and most importantly we got to keep our costumes! Now bring on the after party!