READY YOUR ROPES…Pt 1
With the odd timing of this post, the new Holy Roller feature and Malcolm McLaren’s untimely passing we present to you, Ready Your Ropes.
Holy Roller’s Information Juggernaut, The Spectacular Rollin’ D, has defined a new meaning for the phrase ‘knowing the ropes’.
Rollin’ D took on a very special, but gargantuan mission, to uncover the history of what’s known as Double Dutch. That’s the street game of skipping 2 ropes at once while dancing and chanting rhythmic rhymes and routines. We at Holy Roller call Double Dutch ‘The Missing Element of Hip Hop’. Rollin’ D was beamed up to the jump rope mothership, she entered a Rosen Bridge of soul and wormholed her way to the Double Dutch event horizon of past and present, then skipped to the future.
Ready your ropes: Pick up your feet is the first of a three part series followed by Part 2: The mid 80′s and beyond, and then Part 3 Rhythm and Rhyme, it’s a Movement. By the end of your read, you will be well acquainted with crews such as The Fantastic Four, Black Magic and many other great pioneers of the sport.
In the Holy Roller Hip Hop Hall of Fame, the Double Dutch girls of the 1980′s are about to earn their honourary crown.
Down down baby, down down the rollercoaster,
Sweet Sweet baby, I’ll never let you go
Shimmy shimmy co co pop
Shimmy shimmy pow!
The Double Dutch Cops - Brief history of a competitive sport.
In 1974, the first Double Dutch tournament took place outside the Lincoln Center in New York City. Detective David A. Walker and his partner Ulysses Williams had been working that year on developing the popular street game into a competition sport for girls. In 1975 the American Double Dutch League was established.
This was in the midst of New York City’s financial crisis. Landlords couldn’t afford to maintain or sell their buildings so they were burning them down. Gangland warfare was rife, nobody felt safe riding the subway. There was not much organised entertainment for young people, and across town Afrika Bambaataa was forming the beginnings of the Zulu Nation.
As community detectives working with the Police Athletic League, Walker and Ulysses had noticed that girls were not attending their programs. Walker noticed how black girls in the city like to ‘show off their routines’ while playing double dutch, and how they taught each other rhymes. Double dutch was a neighbourhood challenge on the streets, Like breakdancing” (The Games Black Girls play, Kyra Gaunt, pg.141).
Double Dutch had been a popular street game amongst black girls for many years, the rhymes and rhythms going way back to early African American culture. Introducing an annual national competition monopolised on this popularity, raised the profile of the game and encouraged young girls to take the game more serious. From 1974 through to the late 80’s Double Dutch rose in prominence and gained international exposure with a proud place in the rising hip hop scene.
In the 90’s the game lost momentum, this was not helped by the withdrawal of sponsorship by McDonalds, who had been a major sponsor since the early years. The ADDL had come to rely on this funding, so it was a big blow to their work. McDonald’s withdrawal “single-handedly collapsed the network of rope-jumping leagues. The ADDL continued but struggled as it carried on without McDonalds’ financial resources.” (European Rope Skipping Org). But the sport carried on quietly, and over the years continued to spread across the world with Japan, The Netherlands, and the UK running ‘national leagues’ and competing in international competitions.
Over 30 years on, Walker’s legacy, the National Double Dutch League (not to be confused with the American Double Dutch League which he resigned from in 1992) still holds the annual ‘Holiday Classic’ at the legendary Apollo Theatre every December. This international competition attracts the top teams from around the world. The specialty at the event is the Best in Show Award – where teams bring out their own ‘Fusion Freestyle’ choreographed dance routines to a soundtrack.
Preserving history and promoting the future of Double Dutch, the NDDL, run by David A Walker’s daughter Lauren, is one of the few places you can access a little known documentary that deserves a prime place in the Holy Roller archives.
Pick up Your Feet – The Double Dutch Show
A double dutch documentary made in 1981 by Skip Blumberg.
Set on and around a blazing hot summers day outside the Lincoln Centre in New York City, Pick Up Your Feet is a rare and exciting insight into the world of Double Dutch at the height of its popularity.
Mayor Koch takes the mic to declare June 13th 1981, Double Dutch Championship Day. This is the 8th Annual World’s Double Dutch Championship. It is called the World Championships, but most of the teams hail from NYC – and the majority from the predominantly black communities of Brooklyn, the Bronx and Harlem.
The Jazz Dolls from Brooklyn, The Super Supremes from Manhattan, The New York City Girls from Queens, Dark and Lovely from Brooklyn, McDonald Dynamos from Harlem, Double Dutch Tigers form the Lower East Side, Jumping Joy Double Dutch Club, Jumpers Incorporated, The Sparklers, Black Magic…and featuring…
The Fantastic Four
Robin Oakes, Nicki Adams, De’Shone Adams and Dolores Brown made up the The Fantastic Four, in 1981 they were the current international Double Dutch champions but had been inexplicably disqualified from competing because during the year they’d featured in a Mc Donald’s ad. This somehow broke the rules of the competition – perhaps it was an ‘amateur vs professional’ problem.
Skip follows the girls to their regular practice session, this is where we witness how much hard physical work it takes to be a true Double Dutch champ. We learn Double Dutch is not just about the girl in the middle and her skills; it’s equally about the girls spinning the ropes keeping the rhythm.
Their arm strength, stamina and endurance are second to none.
High jumps, splits and flips over one another all the while keeping the rhythm. The rest of the film features numerous teams busting out their best routines for the competition, incorporating various forms of African American dance styles, gymnastics and routine finishes choreographed for maximum effect.
Pick Up Your Feet is a true gem, as well as being an expose on the thriving Double Dutch scene, Blumberg’s film gives us a glimpse of the atmosphere and vibe of 1980’s New York in the summertime, boomboxes, roller skating in central park, adidas three stripe tees with felt iron-on lettering.
My Name is Dolores, I’m rough and tough
If you mess with me, I’ll kick your butt
Ooo, she thinks she’s bad
Baby, I know I’m bad.
Ooo, she thinks she’s cool
Cool enough to steal your dude.
My name is Robin, I’m sassy and strong.
You turn your rope, I’ll jump all day long.
Ooo, she thinks she’s fierce
Baby, I know I’m fierce.
Ooo, she thinks she’s good
Good enough to rule this hood.
Double Dutch as the Long Lost Element of hip hop
This photo from 1982 by Legendary Hip Hop Photographer Janette Beckman, is titled simply ‘BGirls’ but it is in fact a portrait of the legendary Fantastic Four double dutch crew. These girls have been left out of most references to the rise of Hip Hop, as a result they remain nameless, but they were there. They toured nationally and internationally over a number of years in the early 80′s.
The Roxy nightclub, famous for being the home of the early 80’s hip hop scene (as well as being the home of NYC roller disco) with weekly Wheels of Steel parties run by ex-Londoner Ruza ‘Kool Lady Blue’ and headed up by Afrika Bamabaatta. The club routinely sponsored MC battles, Zulu Nation gatherings, breakdance competitions with the Rock Steady Crew, graffiti murals, AND… Double Dutch competitions.
The Fantastic Four must have performed at The Roxy. They were the Double Dutch crew who traveled with Fab 5 Freddy, Rammellzee, Afrika Bambaataa, Rock Steady Crew, Phase 2, Futura and Dondi to Europe for 1982 The Roxy Tour (also known as The New York City Rap tour) in the first ever international hip hop tour.
Janette Beckman, who later moved to New York and took some of Hip Hop’s most iconic photographs, was sent by Melody Maker Magazine to the concert when they hit London. She managed to capture a couple of moments, but as with the lack of mention about Double Dutch in hip hop history, so is the lack of visual evidence.
At times it was a difficult tour, playing in school gyms in small remote towns across Europe where the people were puzzled trying to figure out this new culture. In an anecdote in the Jeff Chang’s acclaimed book, “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” (pg.182-183), Crazy Legs recalls a moment when some drunk people in the crowd threw bottles on stage during the Double Dutch Girls performance. The music was stopped while Dondi, D.S.T. and Phase 2 led a group of the New Yorkers to beat up the drunks. After that, the audience cheered and the show went on!
The story of the The Fantastic Four is hard to track, partly because they were advertised and promoted under a number of different names. But with a bit of examining pieces of the puzzle, we discover that the girls also toured with the 1985 Fresh Fest II 52-city tour of America, which featured an all star line-up – Run DMC, The Fat Boys, Whodini, Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash, Shabadoo, Turbo and the Dynamic Breakers.
Again, any video footage connected to this tour, shows Run DMC freestyling at press conferences and the Dynamic Breakers bboying, in fact look it up, there is some great footage of Whodini performing on stage, but no Double Dutch Girls. The sport’s contribution in early 80′s Hip hop culture has hardly been recognised. Kyra Gaunt, in an interview with DXT (formerly known as Grandmaster D.S.T.) asked why Double Dutch was included – his answer was simply that he thinks it was because it represented authentic street culture from NYC.
The Fantastic Four in the late 80′s, went on to join the original line-up of a women’s double dutch crew called Jump Sister, Jump - who later became The Double Dutch Divas, we will get to them later as we move along the jump rope timeline.
The Duck Rock connection…
In the same year as the New York City Rap Tour, Malcolm McLaren released his song ‘Double Dutch‘, the video of which introduced most of us in the rest of the world to the girls and the game. His debut solo album Duck Rock, part of McLaren’s infiltration of the hip hop world (see our previous article Planet Rock to Duck Rock) featured Double Dutch was a major player. Many of the girls and teams that feature in Blumberg’s documentary, also star in McLaren’s video, many of them wearing official Double Dutch league t-shirts. The cover of the 12” features the step-by-step instructions of how to do The Compulsory and Speed test – League standard moves. Also, the label on the record features the American Double Dutch league logo on one side, and Keith Haring artwork on the other.
In true Malcolm McLaren cultural appropriation style, the song claimed to star and talk about ‘The Ebonettes’, but the Ebonettes were not a real group or team, nor were they the real female vocal group The Ebonettes. The song does name check a few of New York City’ teams at the time. An amazing video to watch – it is a shame the actual girls crews featured in the video were not properly name checked.
Sponsored By Nuggets
McDonalds was a major sponsor for Double Dutch sponsoring teams, leagues, competitions and running an number of ad campaigns.
McDonalds Ad 1980 – Starring the Fantastic Four
Watch a better quality version here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uo5DbV0ZKAI
McDonalds Ad 1985
Detail on a vintage Washington DC Double Dutch League t-shirt:
Primarily and traditionally Double Dutch is a game girls play, but since the mid-80′s it has increasingly involved numerous male stars. Some of this can be attributed to the globalisation and regulation of the sport – which has funneled it into a purely sports world as opposed to a community street game.
Initially, the ADDL restricted the competition sport to girls, it was one of the few community development programs to engage girls while there were many other sports programs for boys. But in 1980, the ADDL opened up competition sport to limited male inclusion.
In Pick up Your Feet, one section focuses on a young boy, who in 1974 seems to be the only boy in the whole competition. The focus of a lot of attention in his short Double Dutch career, young Peter was well prepared when asked what’s it’s like to be the only boy ”I say – It’s doesn’t feel like anything, I just like to jump, so I jump, and that’s the answer I give them… and if they say anything else, I just mind my business and go where I’m goin’”
The 90’s saw the arrival of a male Double Dutch performer who quickly became a star and has remained a major player in the sport through to today: Stephone Webb. In the early 90s, he appeared in a Sesame Street segment on Double Dutch coaching young girls team. In the 2004 documentary “Rhythm in the Ropes” Stephone features as the leader of the a team in the US who manage to finally bring the Best Of Show trophy back to it’s spiritual home of New York after many years of Japanese domination…
For more, go check Ready Your Ropes Part 2 : the late 80′s and beyond!