The Washington Post

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

By Justin Wm. Moyer

 

‘Black girl magic’: D.C. Retro Jumpers remind D.C. how to double Dutch

 

Michael Smyers Jr., 8, plays double Dutch with the D.C. Retro Jumpers during the Open Door Baptist Church community day in Washington.
(Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

 

Before smartphones and Snapchat, the click-click of double Dutch jump-ropes could be heard in the streets and alleys of Washington and other urban areas.

 

While the uninitiated might marvel at its intricacies, it often involves two children, usually African American girls, reciting songs and turning ropes while one (or more) leap between them, jumping as fast as they can for as long as they can. But in the age of the glowing screen, it takes a squad of wise veterans to help kids relearn the game.

 

“These computers have gotten kids so rotten,” said Robbin Ebb, 52. “It’s a lost art. I’m bringing it back.”

 

Ebb is the force behind D.C. Retro Jumpers, a group operated by women working to bring double Dutch back to D.C. streets. Ebb said the group was started in 2005 for an event at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Northeast Washington, then a subsequent slew of invitations from schools, churches, block parties and homeless shelters has kept them busy ever since.

 

The routine is well established. Ebb, usually accompanied by two other members of the group, arrives at an event with ropes and starts jumping. Kids — and parents — gather round, and Ebb begins cajoling them to get into the rope, no matter their shape, size or age.

 

“Parents got off from doing it,” Ebb said. “I don’t care what color you are. If you can do my bunny hop, I’m getting you in my rope.”

 

Da’Moni Kelly, 5, jumps up and down while waiting her turn as the D.C. Retro Jumpers teach double Dutch to children during the Open Door Baptist Church community day in Washington.
(Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

 

Joy Jones, founder of D.C. Retro Jumpers and author of a play about double Dutch, said she was inspired to create the group to feed an “intra-generational exercise obsession.”

 

“My vision for the group was to have adult women jump-rope for fitness and fun,” Jones said. “One of the things that really inspires me, still, is seeing women on the edge of a demonstration and see the longing — almost lust — to get in the rope.”

 

That feeling was on display earlier this month at Open Door Baptist Church’s community day in Southeast. Things started slow, with Ebb and her sister, 63-year-old Carlyle “C.C.” Prince, turning the ropes for each other or another D.C. Retro Jumper volunteer.

 

Then, the line for the ropes began to grow. The 56-year-old church pastor — a former police officer who once ran a double Dutch program for D.C. police — jumped. A braided little girl who looked to be about 3 years old jumped.

 

Janience Kelly, 26, and her 9-year-old daughter, Armari, took turns — Armari’s first time.

 

“I told her: ‘I’m doing it to show you you can do it,’ ” Janience said.

 

The D.C. Retro Jumpers help Beatrice Barnes, 10, left, and Janiya Barnes, 12, play double Dutch.
(Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

Robbin Ebb, left, and Carlyle Prince, right, of the D.C. Retro Jumpers teach double Dutch to Shamere Ross, 19.
(Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

 

Fresh from the ropes, Chinna Penamon, on hand to distribute literature for social services group the Women’s Collective, recalled a time in the District when children spent more time outside playing games, such as red light, green light or double Dutch.

 

“This is an art form, actually,” she said.

 

Kyra Gaunt, an assistant professor at the State University of New York at Albany and author of “The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes From Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop,” said that based on her research, double Dutch was created by African American girls in large cities after World War II, despite rumors of its Egyptian or Chinese origins. These girls, now grandmothers, and their daughters know the game, she said — but their granddaughters may not.

 

“Double Dutch was black girl magic that we had in our communities,” said Gaunt, a Rockville native. “It was something we could call our own — a way we could create our own spaces where we excelled.”

 

Double Dutch eventually found its way into public schools, and a competitive league was created in 1973 in New York. A spokeswoman for D.C. schools said the game is part of the physical education curriculum from third to fifth grade.

 

The D.C. Retro Jumpers help Beatrice Barnes, 10, left, and Janiya Barnes, 12, play double Dutch together.
(Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

 

But as the sport became “institutionalized,” Gaunt said, it lost its connection to the neighborhood. Casual interest in a game that had evolved organically dwindled as neighborhoods began to gentrify, physical education programs were cut nationwide and social media platforms such as Instagram became ascendant.

 

Gaunt said she doesn’t see its appeal to a broader audience — including teams in Holland and Japan — as a positive, but evidence of “cultural appropriation.” If double Dutch dies in neighborhoods, she said, that’s bad news for black culture.

 

“Black girls and double Dutch are like the canary in the coal mine for us,” she said. “You can tell the vibrancy of a community by how vibrant our games are.”

 

Outside Open Door Baptist in Washington, the ropes kept turning next to the moon bounce and beanbag toss. Ebb and her sister coaxed two girls into the ropes, jumping together, hand in hand, as the ropes turned faster and faster.

 

“You can double Dutch forever,” Prince said.

 


The Washington Post

Thursday, August 9, 2007

 

Black Culture Spans the Centuries in a Single Afternoon

 

The National Colonial Farm in Accokeek celebrated its annual African American Heritage Day on Saturday.

Clockwise from left, Carlina Scott, 9, listens to storyteller Donna Washington; Angelica Jackson, 16, portrays slave Kate Sharper; and Margaret Young joins in double Dutch with Robin Ebb, left, and other D.C. Retro Jumpers.
(Photos by Lois Raimondo/The Washington Post)

 


The AFRO American Newspapers

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

 

Flying high!

 

Photo by Danita Delaney

There’s nothing that says summer in the city like jumping rope. Every summer on the sidewalks of inner city Washington, D.C. you were guaranteed to witness little girls jumping double dutch during any warm day. As the rope hit the pavement, you would hear the chants as the jumper showcased her athleticism and style – flipping into the ropes, jumping on one leg, tricks with another jumper, jumping single rope at the same time – vying to claim the title as the best jumper on the block.

 

But double dutch isn’t only for children. DC Retro Jumpers, an adult exhibition team, has brought this old pastime into the new millennium, performing at events throughout the city. The DC Retro Jumpers are known for jumping “pop-ups” and “skinin” the rope, and hand dancing while doing double dutch. According to Joy Jones, team leader, jumping double dutch is not only fun but also a great way to be fit. Here, the team practices at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center, at the corner of 10th Street and Michigan Avenue, N.E.

 


Special to The Examiner

July 24, 2005

By Kelsey Volkmann

Adults jump at chance to double dutch

Women mix nostalgia with aerobic workout

Adults jump at chance to double dutch 

 

Double-dutch jump roping isn’t just for schoolgirls anymore. Craving a healthy aerobic work-out and a way to travel back in time to their schooldays, some women – many of them professionals in their 30s, 40s and 50s – have found both at the Adult Double Dutch Program at Turkey Thicket Recreation Center.

 

“When I’m here, I’m 12,” Myra Martin of Southeast said. “Tomorrow I’ll be 50 again, but right now, I’m 12.”

 

Most of the women who participate in the free program jumped rope as girls and Friday, they remembered the chants popular during childhood (“Charlie Chaplin went to France to teach the girls the hula dance…”), easily jumping to the rhythm of the two turning clothesline ropes.

 

Getting their jump on

 

Joy Jones, a native Washingtonian who lives in Northeast and the program’s creator, said it all started last fall a result of “art imitating life imitating art.”

 

Robbin Ebb, left, of Northeast, and Bettie Robinson-Gibbs, of Southeast, participate in the Adult Double Dutch Program at Lincoln Middle School on Friday in Washington. The free program is offered every Friday at 6:30 p.m.
(Arianne Starnes/for The Examiner)

“I wanted to jump rope on my lunch breaks at work but the other women said, ‘I’m too fat,’ ‘My back hurts’ or ‘I don’t want people to laugh,’ ” Jones said. “So I wrote a play about women jumping rope [a comedy called “Outdoor Recess,” produced at The Metropolitan Ebony Theatre at Prince George’s Community College in September], and after seeing it, friends said I should start a group in real life.”

 

During the day, Bettie Robinson-Gibbs, of Southeast, works as an attorney, but on Friday nights, she gets her jump on.

 

“It’s an excellent, all-over body workout,” she said. “It gets your heart rate up real quick. And jumping rope is also fun.”

 

When and Where to Double Dutch in D.C.

 

The Adult Double Dutch Program is sponsored by the District’s Brookland-Edgewood Family Support Collaborative and takes place at Taft School, 1800 Perry St. NE, the temporary home of the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center, at 6:30 p.m. on Fridays. For more information, call 202-832-2368 or e-mail joyjones100@cs.com.

 


The Washington Post

Thursday, July 28, 2005

 

Once Child’s Play, Now a Workout

 

Lorraine Jones jumps as Robin Ebb, left, and Myra Martin turn the ropes in an exercise program at the Turkey Thicket Center in Northeast.

 

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