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Spring — and Jump Rope — is Here Again

Author John Cech
Air Date 3/20/2002

Spring and Jump Rope Transcript

Ah, let the games begin. In spring festivals in ancient Greece and Rome, young people would jump over vines, not only to show their physical prowess, but to predict how high that year’s crops would grow. We don’t know exactly where jump rope began — but some scholars have reported that a form of it appears in both ancient Egypt and China, to showcase the agility of rope makers, who developed intricate patterns of jumping over the long strands of rope they were braiding together. By the time the spinning rope landed in Holland in the 1600’s, perhaps brought by Dutch sailors from the Middle East or the Orient, it was transformed into game for young people, where we see it in old engravings of children at play. The Dutch would bring the game to America, and to old New York in particular, where it remained an urban pastime, indulged in boys, to show off their athletic abilities. It was thought to be unlady-like, and physically dangerous for anyone who overdid it, but in America’s rough and tumble, growing cities at the turn of the twentieth century, girls began spinning ropes, too — in playgrounds and on sidewalks. They added endlessly improvised songs and rhymes and, knowing how hard it was for boys to do two things at once, girls effectively made it their game. It was a very public way they could shine, athletically, in a domain that was theirs alone. Here they could fantasize about “kissing a fella” like Cinderella, or comment on the follies of adult life or the siblings they had to look after, or predict who their boyfriends might be. And the best part of it was, it was done outdoors, out of range of adults, in accordance with the rules that the kids themselves made up and passed down. Jump rope was never an organized, indoor sport, like it is, pretty much, today. It was a social event, one of the unique ways kids created for themselves to p build their own communities — all under the arc of the spinning rope.

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