A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from November 26, 2004
Double Dutch
The jump-rope game of "Double Dutch" was probably invented in New York City, cited from at least 1895. "Double Dutch" tournaments were re-introduced in New York City in 1974.

The name "Double Dutch" (meaning "gibberish" or a language that one does not understand) probably is much older than the "Double Dutch" game, which almost certainly does not come from 1600s New Amsterdam. Another jump-rope game is called "Double Irish."


National Double Dutch League - History
THE HISTORY OF DOUBLE DUTCH
Basically, Double Dutch is a rope skipping exercise played when two ropes are turned in eggbeater fashion. While the ropes are turned, a third person jumps within.

A history of the game written by David A. Walker, the founder of the sport, traces the probable origins to ancient Phoenician, Egyptian and Chinese ropemakers. They plied their craft at ropewalks - spaces 900 feet or more in length - usually near seaports. With a bunch of hemp around their waists and two strands attached to the wheel, the ropemakers walked backwards, twisting the rope into uniformity. As the runners traveled the cluttered floors supplying the spinners with hemp, they had to jump the twisting rope. To make their deliveries, they needed quick feet, lithe bodies and good eye perception.

It is possible that at these ancient rope-works the basic framework of Double Dutch evolved. In all likelihood, the rope spinners, runners and their families patched together a leisure time activity from their work. The strand-over-strand turning movement of the spinners, the footwork of the runners evolved into the game. Thereafter, it was passed from generation to generation.

The Dutch settlers brought the game to the Hudson River trading town of New Amsterdam (now New York City). When the English arrived and saw the children playing their game, they called it Double Dutch. The game has since grown over the years, particularly in urban areas. It became a favorite pastime to sing rhymes while turning and jumping. During World War II, the game was often played on the sidewalks of New York. By the late 1950s the radio music boom dominated urban America and the lack of recreational areas in close proximity to apartment buildings had made the game nearly extinct.

In 1973, David A. Walker, then a New York City Police Community Affairs Detective, joined by his partner Detective Ulysses Williams, developed the street game of Double Dutch into the World Class Sport that it is today. With the assistance of the physical education instructors at IS 10, Walker and Williams revitalized the game by developing it into a competitive team sport. On February 14, 1974, the first Double Dutch tournament was held with nearly 600 fifth, sixth, seventh and eight grade students participating.

Since that initial tournament, competitive Double Dutch has expanded with citywide and national championships. Nearly 100,000 girls and boys representing schools and community centers throughout the United States and world compete for team positions at the national and international events.

The American Double Dutch League, the sport's first governing body was formed by David A. Walker, in 1974. He resigned from the ADDL in 1992 after serving 18 years as the organization's president. Mr. Walker went on to form the International Double Dutch Federation (the international governing body of the sport,) the National Double Dutch League, and the world famous DDDD-Dynamic Diplomats of Double Dutch team.

For the past twelve years, Walker's invention of the popular "Fusion" free-style approach for the sport of Double Dutch is the format adopted and used at the internationally supported Double Dutch Holiday Classic© and other world-class tournaments throughout the world.

("Word Detective" archives, www.word-detective.com))
"Double dutch" jump rope requires hopping through two jump ropes twirling in opposite directions, like an eggbeater. If that seems like an impossibly difficult skill to master, guess what? That's why they call it "double-dutch."

Double-dutch rope jumping was probably invented by New York City, not Dutch, children. Its name is a relic of the rivalry between England and The Netherlands back in the 1600's, when both nations were establishing global empires. Back then, the English referred to anything they didn't like or considered foreign as "Dutch." Even hundreds of years later in America, if something was very confusing or difficult, it was known as "High Dutch" or "Double Dutch." And anyone who's ever seen double-dutch jump rope will agree that it's the perfect name.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
Dutch, a., n. (adv.)
double (high) Dutch: a language that one does not understand, gibberish.
1789 DIBDIN Poor Jack ii, Why 'twas just all as one as High Dutch.
1876 C. H. WALL tr. Moliere I. 116 (Farmer) Though I have said them [prayers] daily now these fifty years, they are still double Dutch to me.
1879 SPURGEON Serm. XXV. 297 The preacher preaches double Dutch or Greek, or something of the sort.

double Dutch adv. and n. (also with lower-case initial in the second element) N. Amer.
(a) adv. (of rope-skipping) over two ropes turned in sequence;
(b) n. a rope-skipping game in which two ropes are used; cf. sense B. 2b.
1895 Harper's Mag. Feb. 421/2 He skipped ‘slow-poker’, ‘pepper-salt’, and ‘*double Dutch’ in Tompkins Square on Saturdays.
1947 Jrnl. Amer. Folklore 60 31 ‘Double Dutch’, where two ropes were used and turned inwardly by two girls, each of whom held a rope in each hand.
1988 S. LEE Do Right Thing (film script) (1989) 189 (stage direct.) The streets are filled with kids playing. We see stoop ball, double dutch.

(Dictionary of American Regional English, Volume II, D-H)
1904 Dialect Notes 2.396 NYC, Double-Dutch. . . A little girls' game of skipping two ropes at a time.

14 April 1927, Sheboygan (WI) Press, pg. 6:
Rope Jumping Contest To Be
Feature Of Contest In City
Girls, d'ja ever do the "double Dutch"?

'Course you have, only maybe you didn't know you were doing it or you called it by some other name.

Well, anyway, that is one of the things you're going to do when you compete in the rope jumping contest which is to be conducted for prizes offered by the Sheboygan Press.

The "double Dutch" is just one of five stunts to be done with the long rope. Then there are five others with a short rope.

This particular feat is done with two ropes, the jumper depending on two assistants to handle them. They way it works is more difficult to imagine than it is to do, according to Recreation Director Antonin, who will supervise the contest.

Two persons, boys or girls or a boy and a girl, are placed opposite each other at the proper distance with a rope in each hand, twirling them in such a way that one loop is up while the other is down. The object for the competitive jumper is to run in after the ropes are in motion and to take fast jumps through the two ropes turned inward ten times. For the successful performance of this feat, proper credit is given in the contest.

27 April 1941, New York Times, pg. SM9:
The chant for the single rope jump is still, "Pepper, salt, mustard, cider, vinegar!"
Then the fast count. These kids are jumping "Double Dutch," the two-rope game.

7 February 1975, New York Times, pg. 35:
Double-Dutch Experts Get the Jump on Villella in Demonstrations Here
(...)
Double Dutch, the century-old street game in which two swinging ropes are jumped at once, became a citywide competitive sport for girls last year.

New York (NY) Times
Double Dutch Gets Status in the Schools
By WINNIE HU
Published: July 31, 2008
(...)
Stephanie was practicing double dutch, an urban street staple that dates back centuries and, come next spring, will become the newest of 35 varsity sports played in New York City schools. As part of an effort to increase the number of students — particularly girls — participating in competitive athletics, the city will create coed double-dutch teams at 10 high schools, many in predominantly black neighborhoods like Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Harlem where the ropes have long swung on asphalt playgrounds.
(...)
Double dutch is believed to have been first played by Dutch settlers along the Hudson River and was later given the name “double dutch” by the British, according to a history of the game written by David A. Walker, a former New York City police sergeant who was one of its biggest advocates for more than three decades.

Mr. Walker, who died last week, wrote that double dutch once thrived in the city’s neighborhoods, with children singing rhymes while turning ropes and jumping along sidewalks during World War II. But by the late 1950s, he wrote, its popularity had waned in part because of a shortage of playgrounds near apartment buildings.

Mr. Walker developed rules for competition so that double dutch could be played by girls as an intramural sport in the city schools. In 1974, the first double-dutch tournament drew nearly 600 children. Today, the Apollo Theater in Harlem hosts competitions that draw teams from around the world.
Posted by Barry Popik
New York CitySports/Games • (0) Comments • Friday, November 26, 2004 • Permalink