The growing CLAW league is strong enough for a man, but made for a woman like Sistah Mary Slammer (pictured). (Photo by Billy Hunt)
The house is packed with fans fidgeting in anticipation of the arrival of their favorite wrestling personalities. A foul mouthed MC takes center stage, building excitement with the crowd. Fans explode from their seats, screaming as the wrestlers, followed by their obligatory entourages and smack talkin’ managers, parade through the venue to take their places. Sounds like CM Punk vs. Undertaker. But no, this is SuperCLAW, the First Annual Super Championship of Lady Arm Wrestlers, where eight costumed and menacingly monikered women compete for the title of National CLAW Champion and the chance to don the coveted blue and red Cape de CLAW.
The concept of a ladies arm wrestling league (hatched from a joking conversation between Jennifer Hoyt Tidwell and her workout buddy, Jodie Plaisance) has mushroomed from the first Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestlers (CLAW) bout in the back room of The Blue Moon Diner in early 2008 to the 18-league national phenomenon CLAW USA. The CLAW mission, “To empower women and strengthen local communities through theater, arm wrestling and philanthropy,” has resulted in donations in excess of $200,000 to charities from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine. SuperCLAW offers the opportunity for regional champs like Charlottesville’s Kara “Homewrecker” Dawson, Chicago’s Sabrina “Armageddon” Pratt and New Orleans’ Katrina “Sistah Mary Slammer” Weschler to support charities like the Center for Anti-violence Education and the FERTILE Foundation, by equally dividing up the night’s proceeds among the contestants.
Besides philanthropy, CLAW gives women the opportunity to demonstrate myriad strengths. “What’s empowering about the theatrical lady arm wrestling phenomenon is the experience of women creating personas that allow them some form of catharsis or self-expression or social commentary,” said Tidwell. Personas like Tinker Hell, Tragedy Ann and Malice in Wonderland have graced past CLAW events.
“Performing at a ladies arm wrestling event allows women to display the full breadth of their strengths—physical, comedic, creative, altruistic, organizational—in a very public way for their community.” One-time wrestler and current volunteer Denise Stewart said, “The model has been thought through and there is a wacky examination of female themes/roles, but the organization of it is business-like.” Weschler describes the personal empowerment she feels when performing as Sistah Mary Slammer: “When I adorn my neck with rosaries and tighten the velcro on my sensible shoes and adjust the fit of my lace gloves, I feel I represent an incredible sect of women who hardly ever receive the credit they deserve. And it’s not just women of the church, but women everywhere who work hard to do good and rarely receive the acknowledgement they should.”
In addition to some brute strength, the SuperCLAW crowd can expect to see dance offs, staring contests (and other silly tie-breakers), and live music from local band We Are Star Children (creators of the CLAW anthem, “I Love My CLAW”) and award-winning, feminine activists band BETTY.
“Strength and entertainment and community and women…it’s like CLAW and BETTY were made for each other,” said BETTY member, Amy Ziff. Bandmate Alyson Palmer added, “Our mission from the outset has been the empowerment of women and girls. We do it through harmony and a great show. CLAW does it through ‘arm money’ and a great show.” Pratt sums up the zeitgeist of a CLAW event: “When I invite people to my matches, I always say, ‘I am inviting you to the ride of your life. This isn’t a show, it’s an experience’.”
SuperCLAW takes over The Jefferson Theater on Saturday, June 16. Doors open at 8pm.