Jump Rope Dreams: On Discovering Double Dutch as a Child

by Doreen Spicer-Dannelly

Photo credit: Image Source, Photodisc/Getty Images

Growing up in Brownsville in Brooklyn, New York, during my formative years in the ‘70s was one of the best times of my life. Contrary to what one might assume, I didn’t believe living in the projects was a bad thing and I never saw myself or my family as poor — or anyone around me, for that matter. I felt safe. For the most part, families looked out for one another. I wasn’t the kind of kid who wore rose-colored glasses, oblivious to the crime and drama in the projects, but there were some really great things about living in my neighborhood. I guess I always saw the glass as half full or somehow figured out how to fill it all the way up.

As an unexpected addition to my family — with a brother and sister five and six years older than me — I was often left to entertain myself. I spent a lot of time reading, watching TV, or just daydreaming. But on weekends, my siblings and I were allowed to play outside, and going to the neighborhood playground was the highlight of my week. There, in the heart of Brownsville, was where I fell in love with Double Dutch.

My sister, Yvette, was one of the best and most admired jumpers on the block. When she and other great jumpers entered the playground with a jump rope, it was as if they glowed, and all the younger girls including myself stood at attention. They were like the queens of Double Dutch, and everyone wanted to be picked for one of their teams. See, the boys had basketball, stickball, handball, even skully (a game that should be played with marbles but boys filled bottle caps with street tar to make do), and girls were pretty much barred from joining their playtime. So we girls jumped rope — Double Dutch, that is. The turners chanted handclap rhymes to keep the rhythm and we all sang along to keep the jumpers on beat. It was always fun and it involved everyone.

One of the greatest things my sister did for me was teach me how to jump Double Dutch like a big girl. When we were early to the playground she would tie a rope to the fence and coach me on the basics. I learned how to enter the rope fearlessly, jump to the rhythmic cadence with both feet, and I could turn around on one foot and do pop-ups. Double Dutch was like a rite of passage around our neighborhood. If you didn’t know how to jump, you just weren’t that cool. My sister wanted me to be a decent jump at the very least — or maybe she just didn’t want me to mess up her street cred. Either way, it was some of the best sibling bonding time I can remember.

During the time we were jumping Double Dutch on the playground in Brooklyn, two police officers in Harlem, Mike Williams and David Walker, were developing rules to turn it into a competitive sport. They saw it as an opportunity for girls, in particular, to get in shape for a higher level of competition. Because of their efforts, the American Double Dutch League was born in the 1970s.

Then gun violence and horrific street crime increased in U.S. cities during the ’80s, forcing kids to play indoors. Playgrounds became virtually empty. While indoor competitive Double Dutch began, the fun playground experience I loved so much as a child practically disappeared. Currently, crime is down and playgrounds are making a comeback. But sadly, Double Dutch hasn’t, because many American kids don’t know what it is. This is something I’m hoping to change.

With Love Double Dutch! I want to reintroduce the joy of jumping Double Dutch. Although there is a competitive element to the story, I want girls and boys — yes, boys! — to at least try it. I don’t know anyone who’s tried Double Dutch, succeed or fail, who didn’t leave the ropes with a smile on their face. So my hope is that kids everywhere, young and old, will put on their bounciest sneakers and get back in the ropes. Competition and fun aside, it’s one heck of a workout sneakily disguised as a joyful activity. And with that, maybe Double Dutch will make a comeback on the playground.

For me, that would be something to jump about.