The beefy man on youtube is lecturing on the cardiovascular benefits of jumping rope. High tech fitness machines make an expensive backdrop as he lectures novices to keep the shoulders low and to permit only the wrists to do the turning. The rope, he explains, must be carefully sized to fit the jumper; the ideal rope has ball bearings and is made of durable vinyl. Such a rope can be purchased for fifteen or twenty dollars.
He demonstrates proper jumping techniques, bouncing for a while on the balls of his feet, then announces a more advanced jump—three bounces on one foot then the three hops on the other foot. Wow! Then, finally—but only for the well advanced he cautions—skipping!
I am amused.
On the playground of the elementary school where I did most of my rope jumping, we were ignorant of all these things the beefy man knows. We’d never heard the word cardiovascular. Skipping (the advanced technique) was simply the way we traveled back and forth between school and home. Our ropes weren’t vinyl and ball bearings were only for our roller skates. Our ropes were lengths of clothesline begged from our mothers. They were white in the early spring and gray by the time the blossoms opened on the trees.
Length is important—the beefy man had that right. Of what use is a short rope? A decent rope must be long enough for several girls to jump at once. When we wanted to jump solo, we simply wound the excess rope around and around our hands until it was short enough for a little girl to skip over it daintily.
But solo jumping is only for emergencies. The fun is in community.
Two girls volunteer as turners. They stand ten to twelve feet apart and begin turning. The rope starts its familiar springtime slap-slap-slap-song against the pavement. The other girls form a queue and begin to feel the rhythm. Then Kathy jumps into the turning rope and the chant begins.
“Down in the meadow where the green grass grows/There sat Kathy as sweet as a rose/ Along came JACK and kissed her on the nose/How many kisses did she get?”
The rope turns faster—it’s whirling now—and Kathy’s jumping shifts from an easy double-bounce to an intense jump-jump-jump and the fascinated chanters count.
How many kisses? When will the rope trip her allowing Jack to stop his amorous advances?
But Kathy is skilled. When she tires, she simply slips the cage of the turning rope and arrives laughing and breathless on the other side.
Jump rope rhymes. We have our favorites.
“Mabel, Mabel/Set the table/ Don’t forget the red hot pepper!”
And the rope turns madly as the jumper jumps for here life.
“Miss Mary Mack-mack-mack/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 the fence-fence-fence…”
The best ones are the motion chants—the rhymes that require the girls to act out the movement called for in the chant.
“Charlie Chaplin went to France/To teach the elephants the hula-hula dance/ (hip swivel)/Heel, toe, around we go (360 degree turn in the air and repeat)/Heel, toe, around we go/ Salute to the captain, curtsey to the queen (salute and curtsy)/And touch the bottom of the submarine!” (Slap the ground and jump back up again before the rope completes the full arc).
“Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around/Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground/Teddy bear, teddy bear, go upstairs/Teddy bear, teddy bear say your prayers/Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn off the light/Teddy bear, teddy bear, say goodnight.”
Two new tuners take over and new pair jumps together for a while, face to face. A doubles chant begins:
“All in together, girls/Never mind the weather girls…”
Now the line of girls runs through the spinning rope in a drill team style.
“Double-Dutch” someone orders and two ropes spin—one clockwise, the other counter—and still the drill keeps running. Now three girls risk jumping in trio; they bounce in rhythm to the chants until the bell ending recess rings across the playground.
Long gray lengths of clothesline are hastily gathered into loose coils and the girls run for the school door. Cheeks are rosy; hair is windblown, and breathing hard and cardiovascularly fit, we open our arithmetic books.
Oh big, beefy man in your expensive sneakers, turning your perfectly sized ball bearing rope, what rhymes do you know?