In the Seth Low Community Center in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the Jazzy Jumpers are honing the freestyle portion of their repertoire ahead of the 44th World Invitational Double Dutch Championship taking place June 8 in Sumter, South Carolina.
“Ahimsa, on my count go for it. You got it!” urges one of two young women swinging a pair of ropes in eggbeater fashion, as a third teammate pulls off a series of kicks, flips, and 360° spins while avoiding the swirling ropes orbiting her.
Thirty seconds into the one-minute routine, the rope skipper gets tangled. “Nivea, stop worrying about them boys walking by and pay attention!” one of the rope swingers mock scolds.
It may be crunch time for the Jazzy Jumpers, but they keep it light. After all, the Jumpers are about more than just competition. “It’s about having a family,” says coach Toni Veal. “A family that is going to take care of you not only inside the rope but outside the rope.”
For these young women, life outside the rope can be especially challenging. Brownsville’s child poverty rate is 54 percent, according to a recent report—24 points above the citywide rate—and the neighborhood’s violent felony rate is the highest in Brooklyn. But you wouldn’t suspect any of this from the smiling faces coming into the gym to practice.
“People say of Brownsville, ‘Oh, that’s the poorest, dirtiest, scariest, and most violent neighborhood,’” says assistant coach Cece Dume. “To see these girls coming from that and it not making them hard … I commend them.”
Veal, who’s been with the team since 2001, says that the neighborhood’s challenges make double dutch especially important to Brownsville. “There’s no activities here for young ladies,” she says. Longtime Jumper Chelsea Greggs concurs: “There’s not a lot of outlets; there’s not a lot of programs for the kids. This gives them something to work toward.”
Since double dutch’s beginnings, it has mainly been an urban activity, brought to the streets of then New Amsterdam by Dutch settlers and later occupying an important place alongside early hip-hop, with those first DJ block parties featuring double dutch teams alsongside breakdancing crews. It’s not only American, but, as Veal exclaims, “Black American. Back in the day, a lot of little girls from the ’hood would chase down the AT&T guy to get little telephone wires, and be jumping rope. And now that it’s considered a sport it’s like, ‘Wow, all my time spent playing double dutch didn’t go to waste!’”
In June, that means getting the chance to take her girls to the World Championship in South Carolina, where teams from around the country, as well as the Dominican Republic, France, and Japan, will compete, and, later in the month, to the U.S. National Jump Rope Championship in Disney World.
Back in the Seth Low Community Center gym, the girls take another shot at nailing a routine. This one is centered around doubles, in which two girls jump together in sync. After a few failed attempts, they both manage to flip simultaneously between the ropes on cue. The girls are all smiles, legs flailing about. One of the rope swingers yells out, “See, you did it! Told you we got you!”