For many black girls growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, summer in the city meant the sidewalks sang with the steady tick-tick-tick of double Dutch jump ropes.
Ayana Haaruun was one of those double Dutch jumpers. “Oh, I love double Dutch,” she laughs. “As a kid I jumped outdoors on the concrete during the summertime, we jumped from morning to night, all day, every day. If there had been an NBA for double Dutch I would’ve been a star, right?”
It was Haaruun’s memories of playing double Dutch as a child that lured her back to the sport as an adult and inspired her to start teaching double Dutch to a new generation through her organization Black Girls Jump.
Double Dutch originated on the streets of 1940s New York. It migrated to other urban centers like Chicago, where it was an activity especially popular among black girls.
“So you learn how to double Dutch at 10 or 11,” says Haaruun. “It’s like, oh wow, I’m a black girl right? This is a cultural expression that I find that the children take pride in.”
Haaruun returned to double Dutch as an adult because she had grown bored with running to keep in shape.
“I was like, what can I do for fitness that’s fun, I want to do something social. And I said, why not just play jump rope? That’s what I did as a kid. And I went to the hardware store and I bought a plastic clothesline and I just took my clothesline to the park as if I was 12 years old and I just asked people if they wanted to play jump rope with me and in an hour there were probably 40 or 50 people out there playing jump rope.”
Energized by that day in the park, Haaruun began to organize events for black women to jump back into double Dutch for fun and fitness.
“It offers adult women a chance to play, which is something adults don’t get the chance to do and they’re also working out. And we noticed that mothers would bring their daughters to the events, so the moms wanted their daughters to also learn to jump rope,” she said.
Seeing girls jumping with their mothers gave Haaruun a new focus. Through Black Girls Jump programs in schools and parks, she shows the ropes to girls like 9th grader Makaylia Shakes at Harlan Community Academy.
“The hardest thing for me in jumping is getting in the rope. Like my first try, I was like, oh my god, how am I going to get into two ropes at the same time?” says Shakes.
Black Girls Jump also holds workshops, like a recent one at Ring of Hope in the Grand Crossing neighborhood where ambassadors from New Jersey’s International Double Dutch League trained coaches for Black Girls Jump. The goal was building teams in Chicago to participate in regional and national double Dutch competitions.
IDDL coach Kyaisha Max-Macarthy says she doesn’t remember a time when she wasn’t jumping. “I have been coaching for 21 years so I think I’ve been jumping for maybe – don’t make me say it! It’s an awesome outlet for young people and especially for people in urban areas.”
And she says that like other sports, double Dutch teaches discipline, structure and selflessness. “Turning is the heartbeat of the rope. It does not work without an awesome turner. They’re okay with not being in the rope, they’re OK with just helping their teammate out.”
Shakes says you can add perseverance and teamwork to that list. “We always encourage each other to do our best, even when some try to quit we encourage each other to keep going. And when we cheer people up, everybody feels the happiness, the joy around, so we all get to be jolly jumpers!”
Note: This story was first published on Feb. 25, 2019.