The sport, believed to have been started by ancient Egyptian, Phoenician and Chinese rope-makers, is now becoming popular in the Western world. Calls are even growing for it to become an Olympic sport. It now has a following in the UK thanks to Ruth Guion-Firmin, coach to the French National team during the 1993 Double Dutch World Championships. While she was in London last year she decided to approach Melanie Anclif, Youth Officer of Weekend Arts College to get it promoted in Britain.
Workshops began last September and already five of Guion-Firmin's pupils, girls aged between 13 and 17 known as the NW5 Double Dutch Team, have been selected to represent Great Britain and participate in the June championships organised by ADDL (American Double Dutch League) in Maryland. In addition they have been invited to take part in the International Rope Jumping Competition, held in conjunction with the Goodwill Games in St Petersburg in July, where they will also form part of the opening and closing ceremonies, to be televised worldwide. The girls are currently busy trying to raise pounds 7,000 in sponsorship.
One of the team, 17-year-old Lynda Jago took up the sport while training to become a youth worker. 'I came across the classes by chance when we were taking a breather from trampolining,' she explains. She is in no doubt that it should become an Olympic sport. As yet, however, as Melanie Anclif points out, 'Double Dutch is somewhere between an art form and a sport - the same way that synchronised swimming and trampolining started out.'
In order to convince nonbelievers of its true status, Double Dutch has three official sections. In the Speed Test, teams are judged by the number of jumps the participant can execute in two minutes. In the Compulsory Turns Test jumpers have to perform specified tricks within 30-40 seconds in which they are marked for skill, grace and discipline. For the Freestyle Competition, jumpers may draw from a repertoire of gymnastic stunts, dance steps or improvisation.
In surprising contrast to the playground, the game is not seen as a purely female preserve. The classes have attracted a number of men who respect the sport because it is physically demanding. Even learning to turn the ropes correctly requires a certain level of strength and practice. Its favour with boys has been aided by the trendy image that Double Dutch has acquired in America, where it has been a nationally recognised competitive sport for the last 21 years. It is now portrayed in hip television commercials and youth programmes.
Unlike many sports, Double Dutch is one which people can take up in their own time and space. The costs are minimal - all that is required is two ropes and a decent pair of pumps. It can be played in playgrounds, parks and perhaps even in Olympic stadiums.
For further information contact Melanie Anclif (071-284 1861) at Weekend Arts College, Interchange Studios, Dalby Street, London NW5 3NQ
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