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Gainesville woman finds her place in roller derby
Dana Ellis, also known as "Slick Kitty," has been skating with the Classic City Rollergirls roller derby team for one year. She'll be taking a break due to her pregnancy but still plans to be on the sidelines as their new season starts April 2. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Classic City Rollergirls vs. Appalachian

When: 6 p.m. April 2
Where: Athens Arena, 280 Commerce Blvd., Bogart
How much: $10
Contact: 706-769-4439 

By day, Dana Ellis is a soft-spoken paramedic, but at night she becomes a fearless, jammer blocking, hip-checking skater better known as Slick Kitty.

For the past year, Ellis has been a player for the Classic City Rollergirls, a women's roller derby team.

"I just like to skate. I would take my niece, who is 9, skating but when you get older and go skating it's totally different from back in the day when you would go skating with your friends," said Ellis, a 31-year-old Gainesville resident.

"I kinda felt out of place. I came home and I told my husband, ‘I think I'm gonna find a roller derby team.'"

A quick Google search revealed that the closest teams were either in Athens or Atlanta. She opted to join the Athens-based Classic City team, which is a member of the Women's Flat Track Roller Derby Association.

Although she could already skate with the best of them - she long ago mastered skating backward, crossover moves and turning - it took a while for her to adjust to the contact sport that is roller derby.

"I printed out all of the rules and they had a couple of plays that I had to learn. They gave us a quiz to make sure that we knew it," Ellis said.

For the uninitiated, roller derby games are called bouts and typically last for one hour and are split into two 30-minute periods. Each period is made up of jams, which are races between the two competing teams for points.

Each team has five players on the track at a time - four "blockers" in the front and one "jammer" in the back. The jammer's job is to break through the "pack" of blockers. Once the jammer has successfully passed the pack, they circle around the track and are awarded points for each member of the opposing team that they pass.

The "blockers" are there to do just that, block the opposing team's jammer from getting through. Tripping and elbowing players is prohibited, but blockers can use their hips, shoulders, upper arms, butts, torsos and thighs to impede an opponent's movement.

"I was very nervous before our first bout," Ellis said. "In practice we would scrimmage and the girls that I practiced with would hit hard. And I was thinking, ‘Oh, Lord.'

"And my husband would say, ‘Well you know when you get out there, those girls aren't on your team and they're gonna hit you a lot harder.'"

Going into that first bout, she was expecting to get "pummeled."

"When I got out there, they were like, ‘Tink,'" Ellis said. "And I was like, ‘Really? You're not going to hit me any harder than that?' They hit me a lot harder in practice."

Roller derby competitions were introduced in the U.S. in the 1930s in Chicago and spread across the country in the subsequent years. The derby's popularity began to die out in the mid-1970s, but experienced a revival in the 1980s and 1990s.

The flat track association began in 2005 and has grown to include more than 100 leagues across the country. Spectator interest also continues to grow in the team's monthly bouts.

"For our first bout last year, there was a lot of people, but then on the next one, we packed the house," Ellis said. "It was standing room only."

The new season for the Classic City team begins on April 2 with a bout against the Appalachian Rollergirls at the Athens Arena in Bogart.

Ellis won't be skating with them right away, though. After finding out that she was expecting a baby, she had to take a leave of absence.

She'll be on the sidelines for now, using her paramedic knowledge to respond to any emergencies, but she's not hanging up her skates just yet.

"My husband and I are going to go do the (emergency) medical stuff as long as I can, just so I can be a part of it still," Ellis said. "I hope to keep playing after the baby comes. We'll see how everything goes, but I just love it. It's so much fun."


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