Roller Derby Life Lessons – Part 4

In roller derby, you are not allowed to intentionally jostle a skater out of their position before the whistle blows signifying the beginning of the jam. Basically, if they’ve set up where you want to be, you’ll need to find your own space. That space is theirs now.

As we prepare for our upcoming season, we’re constantly reminded to “claim your space” on the jam line. Sometimes that means squatting low and planting yourself firmly, sometimes it means holding your arms out (as if you were carrying a watermelon).


In real life, claiming your space can come in handy as well. Maybe you’re on the train and some businessman is trying to spread his legs slowly into your space. Maybe you’re at the grocery store self-checkout and two teenage girls have started putting their groceries on the tiny metal shelf before your receipt has even printed. Maybe you’re at a bar and a drunk dude is trying to be sly and creep up against you, until his nipples are literally resting on your upper arm.

Nope. Shut it down.

You are a human being and you deserve space in which to exist. Sure, there are caveats (if no one has any space, then no, you don’t get to spread your arms wide and demand everyone give you a ten foot berth) but the simple version is: you deserve the same space everyone else has.

This year, claim your space. Say “excuse me” to the guy on the train and scooch his leg back to whence it came. Say “Sorry, I’m not done yet” to the teenage girls encroaching on your self-checkout and wait for them to back up. Be polite, but be firm.

That last example, the guy at the bar, actually did happen to me and while I didn’t claim my space, I learned what I should’ve done and will now share that knowledge with you.

A group of derby friends and I were out at a karaoke bar, singing the Spice Girls and Hamilton, like you do, and generally having a great time.

Towards the end of the night, as I stood at the bar, a man sidled up close to me, slowly inching closer. He never made eye contact with me, he just casually let his body touch mine like that was okay. It was not okay, however I am a sucker for giving people the benefit of the doubt. “Oh, he must not have seen me,” I said to myself, and I stepped away from him. But then he took a step closer, following me, and again making physical contact. At this point, I knew it wasn’t an accident (also, like, of course he saw me, I’m a human being, not a microscopic speck of dirt) but before I could decide what my next step was (Do I leave the area altogether? Do I say something? Do I challenge him to a sing-off? What exactly is karaoke etiquette?) one of the friends I came with picked me up swiftly from under my armpits and casually set me down on the other side of her, so that now she was the barrier in between me and Nipples McGee. It happened so quickly, so smoothly, I was in awe.

Problem solved, right? Unfortunately, no. This did not deter Mr. Nips. Instead, he assessed the situation, decided one woman was as good as another, and took a step closer to her so that now HER upper body was being molested by his chest. Friend #1 did not bother with words at this point. She simply popped him in the sternum with her elbow while I looked on with wonder.

Meanwhile, as elbow was meeting chest, Friend #2 stepped in. “Excuse me,” she said, loudly and firmly, “Please go back to where you came from,” and she pointed down the bar, indicating the spot he’d been standing in before he began his pilgrimage toward we three.

“Huh?” he said, unsuccessfully feigning ignorance as he rubbed the spot on his chest where Friend #1 had made contact.

She pointed again, “Please back up.” (Her mouth said please, but her eyes said I-will-destroy-you.)

Perturbed, he mumbled something and shuffled back up the bar to where he first began his journey, while I stared at Friends 1 and 2 with literal hearts in my eyes, having just participated in their Master Class of Claiming Your Space.

So that’s it in a nutshell: Claim your space (or your friends’ space) by using your words, and if that fails, pop somebody with an elbow.

(Later, this same man tried to pee behind the bar and I had to shout “HE’S URINATING BY THE CUPS” at the bartender four times before my message was understood and the man was removed. All in all, a great night.)

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