Double Dutch is twice the fun
Have you seen the D.C. Retro Jumpers at the Cherry Blossom Festival or another local street fair? The group of six women, all over age 50, twirl two ropes in opposite directions, and people of all ages line up to jump Double Dutch.
Sometimes they stop traffic. One driver spotted them, slammed on her brakes and ran over to jump, pumping her arms in the air and grinning.
“Just to see the ropes turning brought back so many memories that she had to jump out of her car and jump,” recalled Robbin Ebb, 55, the group’s lead instructor, whose mother taught her the sport. “She was an old-school jumper, so she knew how to jump. She hugged us.”
Double Dutch “stimulates the endorphins,” said Joy Jones, a writer who founded D.C. Retro Jumpers in 2004. But it’s the camaraderie that keeps Jones coming back to the sport.
“A crowd is always standing by, watching you and encouraging you, and when you get it, people applaud,” Jones said.
Possible origins of Double Dutch
Some historians suggest that Double Dutch originated at the seaports of ancient Phoenicia, Egypt and China, where ropemakers twisted long strands of hemp and others hopped to avoid tripping over them.
Dutch settlers brought the tradition to New York City, and the sport became popular in U.S. cities in the early 20th century.
Since then, the sport has become the purview of Black American girls, who invent chants to accompany the rhythmic slap of the ropes: “Salute to the captain, bow to the queen, touch the bottom of the submarine.”
While Double Dutch is not yet an Olympic sport, it has a spot in the annual World Jump Rope Championship. Other competitions take place in D.C. and across the country, and it’s a varsity sport in New York City schools.
Art imitates life and vice versa
Jones got the idea to form a Double Dutch group more than a decade ago, when she and her co-workers wanted to lose some extra pounds.
“I said, ‘Why don’t we jump Double Dutch?’ Everyone said, “No, I’m too old; my knees are bad; I couldn’t possibly” — and we were in our 20s and 30s then!” she remembered.
After the idea fizzled, Jones decided to write a play about a group of women who jump Double Dutch on their lunch hour in downtown D.C. When a Washington Post writer observes them and writes an article, “wonderful things happen,” Jones said.
Jones’ play Outdoor Recess was produced in 1999, 2001 and 2004, and she won a “promising playwright” award for the work.
When Jones was promoting the play, several people encouraged her to launch a real Double Dutch team. Deciding it was time for life to imitate art, Jones invited some friends to join her at Turkey Thicket Recreation Center, a park near her home.
In time, Jones and her friends were invited to perform or teach at local events and, gradually, organizations began to pay hundreds of dollars per exhibition.
At one festival, an actual Washington Post writer glimpsed Jones’ group and wrote an article about them. The story caught the eye of a producer who books artists’ performances. She called Jones to invite D.C. Retro Jumpers to teach Double Dutch in Russia.
In 2018, Jones, Ebb and two other team members flew to Moscow as “cultural ambassadors,” performing at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and in St. Petersburg.
“We were a hit everywhere we went,” Jones said.
Book about Double Dutch
After the Russia excursion, Jones’ literary agent suggested she write a children’s book about the sport. Jayla Jumps In was published in September 2020 (the paperback comes out this fall), and Jones dedicated it to her Double Dutch team.
Today Jones — a playwright, performance poet, writing instructor and trainer — is in the process of writing a second children’s book and co-writing a biography of Bill and Lois Wilson, the husband and wife behind Alcoholics Anonymous.
Jones admits she’s not particularly good at Double Dutch, but she does it for fun and exercise — and to spend time with friends. Showing off their skills isn’t the point of D.C Retro Jumpers’ exhibitions, she said; it’s about teaching others how to do it.
“Anyone from 8 to 80” can learn how to jump, Jones said, and she and Ebb have taught people of all ages at their events.
“You can learn in less than 10 minutes, and when we get you in the rope, the person is excited that they can actually do it,” Jones said. One woman in her 70s watched them for an hour before shyly asking to try.
“I just love seeing people who haven’t done it in a while or who have never tried it,” Ebb said. After a little encouragement, “They show off, turn around, kick their feet up. That makes me scream and holler because they built up their courage.”
In teaching after-school classes, Ebb sometimes “gets the chills” when she sees a child try a new move or invent a rhyme, she said. She has formed bonds with children who recognize her at the grocery store and confide in her.
“I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” Ebb said of her part-time job as a Double Dutch trainer.
“I’m so glad that I’m able to help the community one way or the other because my community was a village. That’s what I want to be for them. If I can make them strong or make them keep moving, I’m there for them.”
Teaching Double Dutch a job that Ebb, 55, plans to keep for years to come.
“For as long as I can turn [the ropes], I’ll be doing this. It’s so gratifying. What I’m doing is hitting so many points — the health benefits, the camaraderie,” Ebb said. “I don’t want to stop.”
Want to jump by yourself?
Like the idea of jumping rope for the health benefits, but want to do it on your own? Jump ropes have come a long way since we were kids. Now often made with ball bearings in the handles to keep the ropes from tangling, adjustable length jump ropes can be purchased from $5 and up on Amazon.com.
The latest thing for boosting your workout are weighted jump ropes. These ropes are thicker and weigh anywhere from ¼ lb. to 5 lbs., burning more calories and boosting cardiovascular fitness and endurance. Weighted ropes typically sell for $20 and up.
And don’t think these are only for experts. Psychologist and trainer Dr. Janine Delaney is quoted in Good Housekeeping as recommending them for beginners because the feel of the rope helps with timing of the jumps.
Fitness experts at Good Housekeeping’s Wellness Lab says the best weighted jump ropes are those from Crossrope.com. The handles can be easily switched among different weights of rope, and Crossrope’s app offers tutorials for beginners, a variety of workouts, and tracks your progress and calories burned.
Crossrope bundles start at $99, but deals are offered on their website: Crossrope.com. They also sell a large rubber mat for jumping on to reduce stress on the joints.