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CaiRollers, Egypt's first roller derby team, practise in school parking lots. Photos courtesy Laurence Underhill
CaiRollers, Egypt's first roller derby team, practise in school parking lots. Photos courtesy Laurence Underhill

CaiRollers has Egypt's women on a roll with first roller derby team

In Egypt, a group of women are turning to roller derby as an outlet for creative and physical expression. We catch up with some of the players.

At the whistle, NoFeartiti dashes off the line, eager to push her way through the pack of skaters blocking her way. With body check and quick-footed skating, she flies past them. But this is roller derby and she has to lap the pack a second time to score.

Twice a week Susan Nour, whose derby name is NoFeartiti, laces up her skates and hits the track as a member of the first roller derby team in Egypt - CaiRollers.

"Life in Egypt can get pretty restrictive sometimes and it's nice to have a place to go, where you can leave it all on the court and be who you want and act how you want," says NoFeartiti.

"Your teammates ask you to be aggressive and race around the track. That's really freeing and brings out certain aspects of your personality that you probably haven't thought about before."

Roller derby is a little like rugby on wheels. Skaters block, hit and pass each other to score points in speedy, two-minute bouts. Each team consists of four blockers and one jammer, whose job it is to lap the pack and accumulate points.

CaiRollers is the brain child of derby alumni Shaneikiah Bickham (Naughty Venn Close) and Angie Malone-Kaster (Indie Hannah). When Indie moved to Egypt two years ago, she didn't want to hang up her skates.

"I actually brought my entire kit with me because I really wasn't ready to give it up and I had this dream of starting a roller derby team in Egypt," says Indie, a teacher at an international school.

Launching a roller derby team in a country where few had heard of the sport was difficult. The women initially relied on word of mouth to attract members. The gear - protective pads, helmets and skates - aren't sold in Egypt, so the team asks people visiting the country to haul in the gear from abroad. Instead of playing in a skating rink or gymnasium, CaiRollers practise in school parking lots.

But, interest is quickly growing and CaiRollers has more than doubled its number of skaters since starting in September. The team comprises expatriates, foreign-born Egyptians and Egyptians. There are teachers, students, NGO workers and entrepreneurs. Eventually, Indie says, the goal is to train 60 skaters - enough women for a league of four teams, each with distinct personas derbying under the CaiRollers umbrella.

Started in the 1930s, roller derby is one of the first sports to have the same rules for men's and women's leagues. Through the 1970s - when the sport's popularity died out - men and women skaters competed on a banked track, where pratfalls and dramatics were as integral to the game as helmets. The sport was reborn over a decade ago in Austin, Texas, as a competitive sport played on a flat track and run by the skaters themselves. Today, there are more than 1,000 roller derby leagues around the world.

Initially branded as fierce women in hot trousers and fishnets, roller derby has made a name for itself as a competitive sport with or without the camp. In Egypt, skaters say roller derby offers physical and creative expression in a country where women often struggle to be heard in the public space.

Katrine Gadez (Wild Cat) grew up in Luxor, a socially conservative city in Upper Egypt, and says few of her neighbours would welcome the idea of a women's roller derby team.

"You could say I don't have the mentality of Upper Egypt, and I'm lucky, I have an open-minded family," says Wild Cat. "In Luxor, I lived in my own bubble, just going from home to school. When I learnt about roller derby, it changed my life. Now I know I can deal with anything."

According to Indie, the hope is to keep empowering women through sport.

"We're not out there giving speeches, but are just doing what we love and because of that we're empowering others to do the same," she says. "When you put on a pair of skates, it's amazing - your body moves in a way it never has before, you're allowed to be fierce and competitive. On the track, we use a masculine energy to give a sense of power."

For more information on the team, visit the CaiRollers website at www.cairollers.com or www.facebook.com/CaiRollergirls. The team holds open clinics every Friday until the end of March for anyone who wants to learn more

artslife@thenational.ae

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