Griffith University’s, Dr Adele Pavlidis and Professor Simone Fullagar (Sport and Gender Equity -SAGE – at Griffith University) recently reflected on our Roller Coaster Residency in their essay below:
Roller skating is undergoing a revival as a creative sport culture that continues to be popular with women, girls and gender expansive humans. Popular culture and academic research both highlight how skaters and their diverse communities are moving with the roller coaster rhythms of contemporary emotional life.
Arts projects that engage with sport cultures to explore the desires, tensions and concerns of communities, offer a unique space of collaboration at a time when emotional wellbeing is fragile for many in the social world.
Everybody NOW’s recent Roller Coaster Residency sought to do just this by working with the affective qualities of skate culture and experimenting with what sport and art can ‘do’ to move communities in new ways (skaters, creatives, audiences).
As researchers we observed and traced these affective intensities throughout the week long residency, to draw out the embodied experiences that are often difficult to articulate and measure in conventional evaluations. A creative embodied process works in nuanced ways that far exceed what can be captured by pre-determined performance indicators. It is, much like skating, a risky endeavor. It is also more than storytelling as some kind of outcome or arrival point. To borrow from feminist theorist Lauren Berlant, creating with bodies that move and make music is ‘a process of dynamic sensual data gathering’ through which ‘we make reliable sense of life’ (2011, p. 52). In the words of one of the artistic team,
“art making… it’s trying to tap into things that are not rational”.
Everybody NOW’s Residency held the skate stories of women, girls and gender diverse people carefully and created powerful art that connected with something bigger than an individual skater, or a specific style of skating. With the purpose of moving communities, the residency was a fast paced assemblage with multiple components, creative practices and people – derby team members, diverse skaters, song writing workshops, choreography, talks engaging with the politics of wellbeing and performing new sonic sportscapes. Drawn together into a new creative collaboration that navigated tensions and trust, this creative skate assemblage worked as a form of affective pedagogy where moving-expressing became a mode of learning to enact powerful stories of joy, struggle and change. In the words of the participants, skating is about learning something new when you feel out of control, learning from mistakes and getting up when you are knocked down.
Desiring freedom and exhilaration, skaters learn to move on wheels by attuning their bodies to the intimate physics of motion – momentum and stability, risk and pleasure, expressiveness and boundaries. Skating bodies are diverse, always becoming something ‘more than’ when in motion as they come together in the fleeting formations of teams or herds of individuals. Perfecting graceful, coordinated cool around rinks, derby tracks, streetscapes and even in DIY kitchen discoes. With an ever present risk of falling, of pain and the awkwardness of getting back up and going again. But it’s hard to articulate this in words, hard to describe the life affirming (sometimes debilitating) and otherwise, everyday movements of self that roller skating enables.
On the Wednesday night of the residency, we attended as observers and participants in one of the songwriting workshops. Gathering in a large group of all ages at the Gold Coast’s Miami Marketta, the process involved a discussion about what skating meant to each person. Stories bubbled up, spilling over into a space of sharing intensity, about recovery from depression, ‘it was skating that got me out of bed’, of ageing bodies discovering the pleasure of a ‘second wind and having a mid life crisis on wheels’ and navigating the pain and pride of injuries, with ‘bruises you can brag about’. And of finding ways to enjoy skating in all kinds of weather, of the transformative power of skating, of freedom and power and strength. There were a myriad of ways skating shaped how they lived, how they felt, their relationships to their bodies and with others, especially the bewildering grief felt with the loss of a skate friend.
We broke off into smaller groups to write songs around four key ideas that emerged: injuries, ‘gravel rash’, skating at mid-life at home with others online, ‘kitchen disco’, the consistent place of skating in a person’s life and diving into the deep end of risk and pleasure ‘the deep’, and youth suicide ‘Lolli baby’. These were not individuals’ stories, though they were all inspired by actual experiences had by individuals. Rather, they were collective reverberations through music expressed in different genres (punk, disco, soul, pop) that spoke to the skaters in their diversity and multiplicity.
It was, in the words of the artistic team, an ‘embodied process’. The stories embodied flows of affects, joy, sadness, fun, and strength, rather then in the unity of a single person. In this way they can be taken up and taken on, by all manner of other bodies, moving beyond the individual, having ripples throughout the community.
In our final de-brief after the event, one of the artistic team commented,
“Ultimately, you’re aiming to move people, not necessarily with words, and not necessarily in ways that people understand why or how they’re being moved. They just find themselves incredibly moved”.
As researchers we were also involved in speaking at the Friday night ‘party and panel’ event with Bec Reid Everybody NOW’s choreographer, Emma Iwinska from a women’s health service and Natalie O’Driscoll a feminist writer/publisher. The ‘personal is political’ conversations explored the complex relationship between gender inequalities, the power of sport to exclude difference and also create supportive communities, and the importance of creating spaces for wellbeing in a sport and arts context . Skaters and audience members spoke to us afterwards about the power of making, seeing or hearing others – if you can’t see it, you can’t be it – talk about things, feelings, concerns, trauma and hopes for change in everyday life. These affective moments of feeling-thinking differently were part of a broader public pedagogy focus created through the Roller Coaster Residency.
The desire to move and be moved connects every one of us in different ways. For women and gender diverse people, the desire for freedom in movement is often curtailed. By restrictive gender norms that dictate how one should look or what is appropriate for a woman to do, or the demands of care-giving, economic inequalities and the very real threat of gendered based violence. That is, violence towards us because of our gender.
Sport and art are key sites where gender norms can be mashed up, thrown away, or even just adjusted to make more room to move.
Roller Coaster has demonstrated how a unique blend of sport (in this case roller skating) and art can be mobilised to embody different stories to live by, feel through and learn from as creative collaboration.