America’s First Rope-Skippers

From The Girls Own Book by Lydia Marie Child
From The Girls Own Book by Lydia Marie Child. Print

As Follows:

Two ropes are to be used, a child should hold either end in each hand, while turning them alternatively; the skipper must jump over each in every turn.

You fill find that children often compete to show superiority of skill. Whoever skips the most rope without interruption, is crowned victor.

Many, upon reading and imagining the movements of the steps in their head, will recognize this activity more commonly as “Double-Dutch”.

Its late 16th century, America receives its first organized wave of European immigrants, and the children are homesick. Longing for their country and the friends that the have left behind, the little Dutch children, in an effort to make the best of a foreign and somewhat empty neighborhood, did what they knew best during moments of boredom. Skip Rope. Centuries later, the stomping and the clapping of those children can still be heard in New Netherlands today. In the streets of what is now known as Manhattan, those young children sowed the beginnings of what will eventually become a staple in every playground in America; regardless of background, age, or income identities, children all across America will have participated in what will eventually be adopted as the game, “Double Dutch”.

But why exactly is it called, “Double Dutch”?

Surely the phrase must be the brainchild of a few middle school children wanting to ascribe rhyme and alliteration to a whimsical activity they’ve learned to enjoy very much during a typical day. But No,

A better approach to its origins would be to focus on the pieces and its parts-and acknowledge the potential of cultural undertones that may in fact be subtle reference to those immigrant children of long ago.

The modern use of the phrase “Double Dutch” in meaning to describe an odd and strange demonstration of athleticism and skill happens to fall on a connection to a very early and derogatory use of the term. ‘Double-Dutch’ was a commonly known phrase used by native Englanders as early as the 17 century. Double Dutch translates into “gibberish” or “strange talking”1. Commonly used to reference English Superiority. It found its way into common speech because of its xenophobic and prejudice overtones.

A popular understanding behind the christening of the sport comes from an exchange between and English officer and his subordinate in the early days of new Netherlands. On the streets of New Netherlands, near the Hudson to be exact, the children of Dutch immigrant would chant and rhyme in sequence while rhythmically jumping inside two ropes. Settlers could not understand neither the songs (which were in Dutch) nor the purpose of using two ropes instead of the conceivable one. It was pure lunacy2.

Snapshot of Wikipedia Webpage of Touwtjespringen
Snapshot of Wikipedia Webpage of Touwtjespringen

Under Met Meerdere personen, You’ll find lyrics to a popular children’s rhyme

In spin–/ De Bocht Gaat in,–/ Ult sput–/ De boct gaat uit

In, spider, in goes the turn/curve–/; out,–/ Out goes the turn/curve

Finding no way to explain the curious behavior, the English described the act as being “Double Dutch.” Thereby cementing the phrase in unfavorable origins and bringing the sports origins into an unspoken corner in history. As a result, Double-Dutch got its named out of unflattering definitions, but has since lost that connection to the past.

As for the children of the Netherlands, the rhymes and the rope-skipping served to reinforce their Dutch identity in a new and unfamiliar world. In this classic immigrant story, Double-Dutch grew against enmity and prejudice and into the embrace and activity of every American son and Daughter of the 20th Century.

[Edin, Janin, Jim] Via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.00
[Edin, Janin, Jim] Via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.00

Both physically engaging and easy to learn, Double-Dutch has implemented itself into American history as a staple of urban culture. Athletes and middle-schoolers alike can thank the Dutch for bringing the act of rope-skipping to the states. The sport sure has grown out of its “gibberish” label and has become more of a metaphor for unity and acceptance.

Take a moment to visit any middle or elementary school, any park or YMCA, and any clubhouse or front yard, and you will find children rhyming and skipping all across the United States. In every Neighborhood and on every summer day children of all ages would have at some point in life met with a faithful encounter with Double-Dutch.

With over hundreds of competitive and recreational Double-Dutch clubs and teams clubs and teams, it’s safe to say that We’ve openly adopted this strange and foreign activity.

So much so that grew alongside some prohibitive undertones. Openly accepted to all, but somewhat limited by a standard/conventional image of it being a child’s sport or plaything. Is there nothing to learn about the collaborative nature of the game?

Consider this scene from a popular children’s film

For one thing, this is but a taste of the energy and vibrancy one will find in many east coast double-dutch competitions. But what of the movie itself?

Many of you may remember this well-known Disney channel movie starring the then immensely popular Corbin Bleu. Our protagonist is caught in an internal struggle between feeling of duty towards his family and legacy against the thrill and allure of skipping rope. It’s a story about tolerance, love, and transforming your horizons.

Finding no way to tell both his father or his neighborhood, he practices and plays Double-Dutch in secrecy, until he finds himself in the finals of a well-advertised and competitive Double Dutch Tournament. Coincidently, his team faces none other than

The Dutch Dragons~

This is a story of someone finding their place in a society so well pronounced by its norms and prescriptions. A story many of us are likely to relate to. But this is also a story so much more than that.

It’s a film that asks us to find the value in willingly accepting another person’s culture. The reward and growth one achieves through a commitment to participating and engagement. In a community full of diversity and multiculturalism, is it ever a good idea to avert and push away. What about our community. Our Rutgers Community? Aren’t we pretty much a Double Dutch Community ourselves. One does not simply skip over two ropes alone. In order to move and push yourselves to the point of growth and milestones, we need our team players.

What Double Dutch promotes is Tolerance and Acceptance.

And is this not the cornerstone of our Rutgers Community !

Truly, this is greatest lesson we must have learned through our “low-land” counterparts.

Double Dutch

From the mockery of the game, to its overwhelming acceptance, Double Dutch is but one example of a history of shared and interwoven American and Netherlandian companionship.

And that is the heart of it.

So next time you see someone playing double-dutch- Jump In

That is the true purpose of the game!


Alexander Lopez-Perez is a Sophomore at Rutgers University. Inspired by reading stories to children and their pets, he is currently studying English and Education in the School of Arts and Sciences . A fan of Frozen Bananas.

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