This week for my undergraduate American Studies 201 course I’m teaching at Purdue this semester, we read Kyra Gaunt‘s essay in Generations of Youth, “The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip Hop” as part of our unit on “youth and place.”
In the essay Gaunt overlaps the histories of Double Dutch and hip hop, with double dutch as a complicated jump rope game originating in the early 20th century. “Double Dutch” signified that it was nearly irrationally complicated, as in the Dutch language ^2. By the 1970s two police officers organized an official double dutch league, converting vacant lots into sites where kids could practice group jump-roping. During a time when black men were finding a place in the hip hop industry, double dutch became a site in which black girls could claim an identity by: taking up public space, being part of a proud group of young black female athletes, practicing their version of African American “musicking” through double-dutch’s stomping, clapping, and chanting. Unfortunately, although black girls were the double dutch stars, the institutionalization of double dutch as a regulated sport required the removal of these cultural aspects of the game which had reaffirmed black girls’ identities. Now, regulation play prohibited stomping, clapping, and shouting.
Now, reading this article with my students who have NO idea what double dutch is – I’m blown away at how life in Aerican has changed since my youth. While I loved jumping rope and playing with the “Skip it,” I didn’t live in the inner city and didn’t hang out with girl friends (more like my siblings), but completely respected double dutchers. In this pre-Bring it On world in which sarcastic sex-loving cheerleaders would become the new cool, double dutch was bad ass. Have no idea what I’m talking about? Watch one of the best teams in 1985 free style it:
This clip comes from a PBS documentary by David Hoffman called Black Magic which serves as a window onto an important historical moment for young black girls – when they were being talked about collectively as promising Olympians and breaking Guinness World Records for the most jumps in a row. Now, seeing the First Lady surprise viewers with her own double dutch skills in this extremely white group, begs the question – where in the heck are young black female athletes?