“Down, down, baby, down down by the rollercoaster. Sweet, sweet baby, I’ll never let you go. Shimmy, shimmy cocoa pop, shimmy, shimmy pow …”
This chant, or some form of it, could be heard in any black neighborhood in the 60s and 70s where there were young black girls. It was the chant of the double dutch rope.
And though I could sing the chant, I could not jump double dutch.
That’s right. I am black girl who can’t jump Double Dutch.
I loved jumping rope single-handedly, either in place or skipping down the street. But I felt intimidated when I’d roll up on groups of girls who seemingly formed their own teams of 4–6 turners and jumpers who were moving together in rhythm and rhyme, saying the sing-songy words and smiling and giggling.
I wanted to join in. I wanted to BE them. But I just couldn’t do it.
Double Dutch is comprised of two girls at either end of two ropes. They turn the ropes outward in, in unison, and a girl (or more) jumps in the middle of the ropes.
When you jump Double Dutch, there are two ways to start: standing right in the middle, between the two ropes, and start when the turners start, or jumping into the already moving ropes. This is what most of the girls in my neighborhood in South Chicago did.
Have you ever tried to jump into a ring of flame, or across a deep chasm, way up in the mountains? It felt like conquering one of those “Indiana Jones” traps, stepping the right way or getting impaled!
It’s funny to see someone try to jump in and fail. Imagine, the person begins to rock back and forth, from one leg to the other, and then hop right into the middle of those flying ropes. When it works, it’s #blackgirlmagic.
When I tried it, I just rocked for 5 minutes with the other girls taunting me, telling me to hurry up and jump! Didn’t happen.
I walked away, trying to look cool, saying, “that’s OK, I didn’t want to do it anyway,” or something to that effect.
The Facebook page Small Thing Big Idea shared a video of the history of jumping rope and it brought this all back.
Small Thing Big Idea
"Down down, baby, down down the roller coaster..." Hip hop owes a lot to the queens of double dutch.
Kyra D. Guant, Ph.D narrates the video, which describes the correct sound (“tic tac tic tac tic tac”) and the incorrect sound (“tic TAC tic TAC tic TAC”) of the ropes hitting the grouns. Guant also has contributed research about Double Dutch and other games black girls (and other girls) play in her titular book on the subject (below).
Gaunt describes her research on her YouTube page: “I blog, vlog and do collaborative ethnographic research with undergrads about black girls on YouTube.
The TED Fellow talks about jumping Double Dutch on the website “Black Girls Jump” https://blackgirlsjump.com/2015/04/24/black-girls-jump-interviews-dr-kyra-gaunt-2/ as it relates to the connection to the sounds we hear in Hip Hop today.
“I had been thinking about studying women in hip-hop and lucked upon two 8-year old twins playing several handclapping game-songs. Just a week before I had said to my dissertation advisor that the beats and rhymes of girls’ games are just like hip-hop. Girls’ sample and improvise, more or less. And their games precede hip-hop as we know it.”
It’s true. Think about the handclapping songs many of us sang:
Miss Mary Mac, Mac, Mac, all dressed in black, black, black, with silver buttons, buttons, buttons all down her back, back, back. She asked her mother, mother, mother, for fifty cents, cents, cents, to see the elephants, elephants, elephants, jump over the fence, fence, fence. They jumped so high, high, high, they touched the sky, sky, sky, and didn’t come back, back, back, till the fourth of July, July, July.
Or this one:
Miss Susie had a baby, she named him Tiny Tim. She put him in the bathtub, to see if he could swim. He drank up all the water, he ate up all the soap, he tried to eat the bathtub, but it wouldn’t go down his throat.
Miss Susie called the doctor. Miss Susie called the nurse. Miss Susie called the lady with the alligator purse.
In came the doctor. In came the nurse. In came the lady, with the alligator purse.
Mumps said the doctor. Measles said the nurse. Hiccups said the lady, with the alligator purse.
Miss Susie punched the doctor. Miss Susie kicked the nurse. Miss Susie thanked the lady, with the alligator purse.
And here is the complete version of the “Rollercoaster” song:
Down, down, baby, down down by the rollercoaster. Sweet, sweet baby, I’ll never let you go. Shimmy, shimmy, cocoa pop, shimmy, shimmy, pow! Shimmy, shimmy, cocoa pop, shimmy, shimmy, pow!
Grandma, Grandma, sick in bed. She called the doctor and the doctor said.
Let’s get the rhythm of the head, ding-dong. Let’s get the rhythm of the head, ding-dong. Let’s get the rhythm of the hands *clap clap* Let’s get the rhythm of the hands *clap clap* Let’s get the rhythm of the feet *stomp stomp* Let’s get the rhythm of the feet *stomp stomp* Let’s get the rhythm of the hot dog. Let’s get the rhythm of the hot dog. Put it all together and what do you get? Ding-dong *clap clap* *stomp stomp* hot dog Put it all backwards and what do you get? Hot dog *stomp stomp* *clap clap* ding-dong!
Just singing these in my head recalls such vivid memories — and sound, too! The rope clacking, or tic-tacing, according to Dr. Gaunt.
But it also brings back feelings of inadequacy and shame. I never really recall being bullied so much but this was as close as it gets. Not being able to show your Double Dutch skills like the other girls made me feel bad.
That’s probably why I remember playing indoors a lot, with my dolls, tea parties and reading. You know, a nerd. I sometimes wonder if I could have mastered Double Dutch if my life would have been somehow changed?
I suppose it’s never too late! There are ADULT Double Dutch classes for fitness and fun. I found one in Brooklyn: http://www.doubledutchaerobics.com/adult-classes
And Double Dutch leagues are popping up around the country. There is even a national one: http://www.nationaldoubledutchleague.com and a world federation: http://worldjumprope.org/ There has been some talk of making it an Olympic sport!
Back to culture and media, many songs introduced the rhythm of the handclap/jumping songs, including “The Double Dutch Bus” (which shows some excellent jumping).
And as Dr. Gaunt points out, Nelly’s “Country Grammar” heavily borrows from “Down Down Baby” words and tempo:
Ultimately, Double Dutch is performed by more than black girls today. But I remember the humble beginnings of the game, and how it humbled me.