Six young women sit on mats, stretching, surrounded by circus performers and stuntmen at a training space on Gerrard St. last Sunday evening. A dreadlocked woman dangles from a trapeze, and someone’s dog wanders around while the Beastie Boys blast from a sound system. The half-dozen ladies, clad in sweats and yoga gear, don’t garner a second glance from the other performers-that is, until they start fighting each other.
The group, guided by professional stunt coordinators, is called the Rumbelinas, and they are an all-female amateur wrestling league. With campy names like The Wild Rose and Jenny Jazzercise, these ladies duke it out in front of internet cameras wearing cute costumes. Tonight, however, is just training, where the girls are instructed on rolls, holds, and falling safely. The fighting style incorporates grappling and lands “somewhere in between burlesque and entertainment wrestling,” according to Kristi Wray, the group’s manager, promoter, and co-founder.
The style is not fixed, because “when you’ve got two girls fighting, it doesn’t really need to have a dedicated style or move. It looks good just how it is,” Wray says.
Wray (a.k.a. Mama Rumbelina) and Jaime Garner (“Olive Oyl”) came up with the concept for the Rumbelinas with some friends in Ottawa. Wray, a film student, offered to document the group’s first matches, which involved a pool filled with congealed spaghetti and kitschy ’50s-style bathing costumes. Shortly after, Garner convinced Wray to continue to manage and promote the fledgling group.
“You should just do this for a living,” Wray recalls Garner saying. “It’s your calling.” Wray decided her friend was right, and set about developing a Toronto team and registering the Rumbelinas as a business.
Wray is now responsible for promotions, management, and recruiting in Toronto. Garner, who owns a vintage boutique in Ottawa called The Attic, is in charge of styling and costumes. Some of the costumes are custom-made, but Garner also finds some of them through her shop, or Toronto hotspot 69 Vintage (also run by a Rumbelina).
Though the girls aren’t in costume for practice, the sparring is still entertaining. After a lot of warm-ups and some instruction from a helpful stuntman, the wrestling begins. The first match-up is Cookie Candypants (Jes Watson) versus The Wild Rose (Angela Stewart). They square off, smiling and laughing, and Cookie pins Rose after several minutes of grappling. The cat-like Rose wildly and fruitlessly flails her legs to much laughter from the group, trying to free herself from Cookie’s unfailing grip.
Next up, Anita Fast (a new addition to the group, tentatively calling herself “Nina Knockers”) is pitted against Rio Wrecker (Liz Tavares), who-tonight, at least-seems to be the firecracker of the bunch. Rio’s taunts seem only to energize her opponent, who after several tense minutes of enthusiastic holding, shoving, and rolling around on the mats, manages to pin the feisty Rio. The girls are cheeky and competitive, and their grins stretch ear to ear.
Another match begins between Jenny Jazzercise (Jess MacNeil) and Ella Hitsville (Monique Bokya-Mboye), as Cookie takes a break to swallow some pain relievers after her head’s been pounded against the mats. On-hand paramedic Mike Vocilka dispenses some pills, smiles, and notes, “I hand out Advil like candy here.”
Minor scrapes and bruises aside, there haven’t been any serious injuries resulting from the good-natured bouts.
The fights on the Rumbelinas’ website (rumbelinas.com) look just as fun as the practice rounds, though with the costumes and sets they are definitely more titillating. The site’s pledge of more “girl-on-girl action” and new members to cater to “everyone’s female wrestling fetish” might raise a few feminist eyebrows, but Wray insists it is not about being pornographic.
The Wild Rose (Angela Stewart) refers to the site as “selling sexy” as opposed to just selling sex. Wray explains the Rumbelinas’ nudity-free policy by saying, “It’s sexy on its own, it’s hot, and I just think nudity is completely unnecessary.”
However, she concedes, “We deal with wardrobe malfunctions… So we do have the occasional nipple, but we edit them out on request.”
The site will soon feature the results of a recent in-studio shoot with 16 different Rumbelinas wrestling in a variety of crazy scenarios (inmates in jail, French maids at a hotel, burlesque dancers backstage, etc.), which will be available to download. Though the footage of cute girls will have an obvious appeal to men, Wray hopes to attract a wide spectrum of fans, including women who will watch the hilarious battles for their entertainment value.
“We’re concentrating on the internet because we know that we can get a larger fan base-and the internet is the world,” Wray explains. However, the Rumbelinas have plans in the works for other ventures as well, including live and televised matches, and spin-off merchandise.
Economic schemes aside, the Rumbelinas are really about girls having fun and developing a unique camaraderie.
Wray hosted the first meeting between the wrestlers from Ottawa and the ones from Toronto before the recent photoshoot, and was amazed to see the results.
“They met the night before the shoot at my house, wrestled a little bit, and these girls are in love with each other now! It’s like the girls who fight together, stay together,” she laughs. “I’ve never seen girls get along so well, except when they’re fighting.”
Wrestling also offers them a rare opportunity to release tension and aggression.
“Best cure for a breakup ever,” Wray insists.
Plus, it’s a lot of fun. Even though Wray ostensibly handles the business side of the Rumbelinas, she also participates off-camera just for kicks-and she sports several greenish bruises on her forearms to prove it.
For one Rumbelina, membership in the club has had other benefits as well. Angela Stewart (“The Wild Rose”) has been battling serious health problems for the past two years, and in November was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. Feeling she needed to find something to distract herself from her health issues, she stumbled upon Wray’s Craigslist ad (“Crazy Ladies Wanted!”) and joined the team. Since then, Stewart has been working out every day and has seen dramatic improvements in her health and outlook.
“I love it because it’s fun and it’s silly, but it’s also changed my life,” Stewart explains. “I felt so powerless before, fighting this disease, so Rumbelinas has been a life-changing, wonderful, positive experience, and it’s really helped me. I never thought something so simple would put me back in control of my life.”
Back at Zero Gravity Circus, the tumblers, boxers, and aerialists are focused on a cartoonish mass of writhing limbs on the mats. The Rumbelinas have just swarmed their stunt coordinator, and are thrashing, rolling, giggling, and pinning him to the ground against his best efforts. The crowd cheers them on as they laugh in triumph at the prone stuntman. The Rumbelinas do seem to live up to their website’s claim: “Just a bunch of regular girls-that can kick your ass!!”