Double Dutch is Back The World Invitational Double Dutch Championships are being held in Sumter, S.C., and a new documentary, Doubletime, tells the story of rope-skipping's rise from school-yard favorite to international competitive sport.
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Double Dutch is Back

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Double Dutch is Back

Double Dutch is Back

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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That was a song, "Double Dutch Bus," a remixed version of the original by Frankie Smith, which brings us to our next segment. Remember this sound?

(Soundbite of crowd chatter, rope skipping)

MARTIN: That's the sound of two ropes turning, the sounds of Double Dutch. Learning to jump rope is a right of passage for many girls, and Double Dutch has long been considered the particular favorite of black girls in the inner city. But now jumping - both single rope skipping and Double Dutch - are not just for kids. They're coed, competitive sports with international reach. In fact, the annual World Invitational Double Dutch Championships begins today in Sumter, South Carolina, and a new documentary takes us inside the world of competitive rope skipping.

Stephanie Johnes is a director of "Double Time," a new documentary about the history of jump rope. She joins us from NextMedia radio studios in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. And also with us from Duke news studios in Durham, North Carolina is Tim Martin. He's a featured jumper in the documentary. Welcome to both of you.

Ms. STEPHANIE JOHNES (Director, "Double Time"): Hi. Thank you.

Mr. TIM MARTIN (Rope Jumper): Hi. How are you doing?

MARTIN: Stephanie, how did you become interested in the history of jumping rope? Did you jump rope?

Ms. JOHNES: No. I have to admit I didn't jump rope. I discovered this sport when I was living in North Carolina. I was getting a master's degree in journalism at UNC. And I was lucky enough to discover that the national champions of jump roping, the Bouncing Bulldogs team, lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. And so I decided to check them out, and I was totally blown away and amazed by how athletic and acrobatic their sport is, and I decided to make a film about them.

MARTIN: And this film mainly focuses on two teams, the Double Dutch Forces, a primarily black team from a not particularly well-off community in South Carolina, and the Bouncing Bulldogs, as you mentioned, which is a nearly all-white team from a more affluent North Carolina neighborhood. And they're both preparing to compete.

Here's the revelation of the film for me, Stephanie, which is, it's not just about jumping rope, but that as recently as what, 2004, there were two divisions - the single rope division and the Double Dutch division essentially didn't mix.

Ms. JOHNES: That was why it was really interesting when I got started researching more, and I learned that there's actually two separate leagues in this country. There is, like you said, the Double Dutch League, and then there's the Jump Rope League which competes in both Double Dutch and single jump roping.

And so for the film, what I decided to do is to follow the top two teams in each of those leagues, and those are the two teams that you just mentioned.

MARTIN: And, Tim, the film highlights your skills in single rope jumping, in fact, I think you are the world champion in single-rope freestyle jumping.

Mr. MARTIN: Yes, I am.

MARTIN: And talk to me about freestyle, your particular specialty.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: The reason I enjoy freestyle so much is the freedom that you get to create your own routine, to create your own choice and to put them together and the way that you want them to present to the judges and the crowd.

MARTIN: For some reason, I love that term. You know, tricks. Where you can do tricks because, I don't know, so often I expressly used euphemisms, but tricks is really what it is. So tell me about some of your tricks.

Mr. MARTIN: (unintelligible) with single rope, there's about 900 different tricks. They consist of fancy footwork, fancy arm movement in various displacement - power tricks, and also multiple unders, when the rope goes under your feet more than once.

MARTIN: And one of your teammates, I know, I saw you do it, too, in the film where you're kind of bouncing on your butt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You know, the rope is going like under your butt. I don't know how else to describe it. What do you call that trick?

Mr. MARTIN: We call that rodeo.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay, okay. It's interesting. And, Tim, and Stephanie was talking about the fact that there were dual leagues. You're one of the few African-Americans on your team and in your league. I just wondered what was that like for you?

Mr. MARTIN: It was never really awkward for me. Everybody is a person, and we look at each person as, you know, individual and not look at it as color or anything else.

MARTIN: Stephanie, so many institutions in our society are dual, like there are dual medical associations, or, you know there's like a national, there's an AMA and there's an NMA. And the reason is that the founding institutions, which were largely white, refuse to accept African-American members. But your film suggested that was not the case with jump rope. That was not why two leagues developed. What was the story?

Ms. JOHNES: It was mostly because there were two separate individuals who really simultaneously converted jump roping and Double Dutch to a competitive sport. At the same time, there was really two founders of this sport. And they both started leagues and they both founded competitions, and I think, naturally, the people who belong to those leagues are, you know, gravitated towards the ones where they look like each other. And it was not because anyone was shut out of the other league. It was really just a coincidence that this happened in the mid-70s in two different places.

MARTIN: And at some point, the two different leagues actually were competing at one event?

Ms. JOHNES: Well, it was really exciting. When I was making the film, I was just - I was interested in these two teams that were at the top of their league, and I wanted to chronicle that. And I really didn't know, you know, what was going to happen. And it turned out that they both decided to enter an event, a double Dutch competition at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, which is a really fantastic competition where it's different than what both of the teams are used to. They do what's called fusion routines, where they're blending hip-hop dancing and music within a Double Dutch routine.

And so for the first time, these kids got to experience each other and travel to New York City for the competition in New York.

MARTIN: Let's play a clip from the film where Tim's team, the Bouncing Bulldogs, is preparing for the competition at the Apollo.

(Soundbite of movie, "Doubletime")

Mr. MARTIN: It's really interesting having to come up with new uniforms, the music we have to choose. We have to dance. That's going to be interesting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: (unintelligible). I like the hip-hop types scene.

Unidentified Woman: Even if it's going to be like oh, my God, look at those a stupid white girls (unintelligible).

MARTIN: (unintelligible) How did it turn out? What was the reaction of the Apollo crowd?

Mr. MARTIN: It was great. They really enjoyed it. We had a great time jumping. It was at new experience. We do many performances and shows throughout the year, around 200 shows a year, but we learned from it. And that has made our team better.

MARTIN: You know, one the revelations for me is that the Japanese teams, they were amazing. Stephanie, did you know that? That the Japanese teams were so dominant in that sport, particularly at that particular style of jump roping, which just called fusion?

Ms. JOHNES: I had actually never seen the Japanese jump before. I went to that Apollo competition for the first time, and I was blown away by what they can do. And I think Double Dutch is actually really popular in Japan because they embrace hip-hop culture, and to them, Double Dutch is a big part of that and there's a lot of sort of college-age jumpers that are amazing Double Dutchers and they come over to New York for this competition.

MARTIN: Tim, so what does it take to be great at jumping rope? Does it - do you need any particular physical attributes, or is it just really a matter of hard work?

Mr. MARTIN: It's just really a matter of hard work. There's so many different elements of jump rope where you don't necessarily have to be the most athletic person. You can just be great turner or a great jumper or just a great communicator and a great leader. So there's so many different aspects and elements of jump roping that you just don't need one certain thing to be great.

MARTIN: And, Stephanie, what did you learned from doing this film?

Ms. JOHNES: These kids were - some of them were 11 and 12 years old, and they are training for a competition to get onstage at the Apollo Theatre. And I was so impressed with their ability to just go for it and with passion and determination, get up on stage in front of a crowd that they were worried they're going to get booed on stage. I mean, it was - it took a lot of guts for these kids to do this for the first time, and it really - it's just - it was a huge inspiration to watch them and be a part of that process.

MARTIN: Tim, you're heading off to college in the fall. Congratulations.

Mr. MARTIN: Well, thank you.

MARTIN: Are you going to be able to continue in the sport at the college level?

Mr. MARTIN: Oh, yes, ma'am. Fortunately for me, I'll be only 30 minutes away from my team. After classes, I can still be able to come up and practice whenever I get the chance.

MARTIN: The film is called "Doubletime." Stephanie, how can we see your film?

Ms. JOHNES: "Doubletime" will be shown on the Discovery Channel.

MARTIN: Okay. Stephanie Johnes is the director of "Doubletime." It is one of the featured documentaries showing at the Silverdocs Film Festival this weekend in Silver Spring, Maryland. We were also joined by champion Tim Martin, and he will be a freshman at North Carolina State this fall. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

Ms. JOHNES: Thank you, Michel.

Mr. MARTIN: Thank you.

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