alishan crowd

Off Skates Derby in Taipei*

*There is currently no roller derby in Taiwan.

I played roller derby a few years ago and still follow it to this day; speaking about it to anyone who’s never seen or heard of it before and getting into some strange poses and using some impromptu props to explain rules, strategy, and blocks. The skills I learned while playing derby have become second nature through repetition, conditioning, dreaming, and observing.

I realized that roller derby had spilled into my everyday life when I would drive home from practice and subconsciously speed up and slow down with traffic, trying to stay in a pack, “goating” a tailgater between myself and an unsuspecting team member I’d decided to partner up with as we drove down the late night stretch of the 94 and 805.
Another time I found myself at a crowded concert where I really, really wanted to get to the front. I saw some openings, timed my entrance with the music and the dancing, used my hips effectively, wiggled sideways and eventually I found myself where I wanted, pressed up against a cold unyielding metal bar that pressed uncomfortably on my knees and chest. Next to me was a girl with tattoos, long hair, and a cut up shirt. I remember her clearly because she and I both had the same stance. Balanced, low, knees bent, shoulders competing, sitting on people slightly to keep them at bay and to give ourselves room upfront.

When we managed to drag our eyes away from the band we looked at each other with a smile/squint and recognized each other from practice! We laughed at how we had each appreciated each other’s resilience to staying up front when everyone else had been eventually pushed out of the way. Now with a partner, we were unstoppable for the rest of the night. That was also when I realized that some of those mosh-pit sensibilities came in handy in derby.

You should use the skills you have in one part of your life to suit another part, even if they’re in unconventional manners. If it works, use it.

These skills have also come in handy in this busy and crowded city; navigating packed streets, markets, and subways. Want to walk somewhere quickly? You better get ready to juke, fake, hop, give the cold shoulder, and spot holes of any size.
taipei subway

Packed subway car, bus, elevator? Can’t get a seat and can’t grab a handhold? No problem. Plant those feet shoulder width apart, get your knees nice and squishy and lean into the turns. Be aware of your neighbour’s poor balance and be ready to move your upper body away from their flailing arms, stumbling body, and too large backpack.

Need to get out of a sardine pack? Position yourself in advance. There’s no use in trying to get from the back to the front in one sweep, work smart. Use your shoulders and hips, make sure your elbows are out of the way, think small and turn sideways. Look for the holes the person in front of you is making, stick close and don’t let the crowd close that gap. Also, be aware of that other person coming in trying to cut you off before you can exit. Remember to keep your feet moving and step up and over, don’t just shuffle. You’ll end up kicking someone’s bag that way, but always be aware of where your feet are going to go next.

Don’t forget to keep your eyes and ears open for closing door sounds, stop names, people behind you asking to pass by, etc. Being aware of your surroundings takes all the senses.

Great you made it out, now to go for a walk. You’re in a hurry and the crowd is moving slowly. Look for the faster current, is it on the inside or the outside? Don’t look down, keep your eyes up and don’t try to bulldoze through people. Small gap, move your shoulders out of the way, sliiiide through (always say excuse me… except in derby), and continue on your way. Don’t only move forward; be ready to step sideways, diagonally, or even pivot around as people on their phones** don’t tend to look up very often as they walk.

Keep a calm face, breathe, and good luck.

**Umbrellas are a danger as well. Be careful with yours and watch out for theirs.

nightmarket crowd

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