TEANECK, New Jersey — If you were a Black girl growing up in urban America, you probably played Double Dutch. Though the game that involves two ropes turning rapidly like an egg beater can be traced back to ancient times, Double Dutch, as we now know it, is believed to have been brought to the United States by Dutch settlers arriving in New Amsterdam (now New York City) in the 1600’s. According to the National Double Dutch League, the game took off in Black neighborhoods during the Great Depression.
Over the decades, there were not many sports Black women could play competitively, especially when compared to men’s activities. Though Double Dutch was not considered a sport in years past, there was plenty of competition on the streets. How long you could jump or what you could do while trying to negotiate two fast-moving ropes hitting the ground in perfect rhythm could make you a playground phenom.
In the 1970’s, Double Dutch was offered as a positive choice for teen girls. These days, recreational Double Dutch is making a comeback and not just with the younger set. In fact, women as old as 80 are turning back the clock to enjoy their childhood game. The 40plus Double Dutch Club started in Chicago with seven women. Through its “sub clubs,” the group has engaged thousands of women across the globe.
As 45-year-old co-founder Pamela Robinson noted, “We don’t go and knock on each other’s doors anymore, but we would pick up the cell phone or post something on social media and say, ‘Hey, y’all want to come outside and play?’ Did we ever think that was going to happen at our age?”
The clubs adhere to strict schedules. Meetups are posted online and most take place weekly. The 40plus Double Dutch Club is free to join. The only fee is for purchasing a yearly T-shirt that notes the name and age of the member.
“We didn’t put the names and ages on the back until after we had done two interviews here in Chicago,” Robinson said. “The interviewers would spend so much time saying, ‘Well, she doesn’t look like she’s over 40.’ ”
While the sub clubs feature Double Dutch, they also offer Hula-Hoops and a spirited game of jacks.
As one 50-plus member noted, “This reminds me of my youth. When I’m here, I feel like I’m 12 again.”