Kyra Gaunt
234,141 views • 3:35

If you do it right, it should sound like: TICK-tat, TICK-tat, TICK-tat, TICK-tat, TICK-tat, TICK-tat. If you do it wrong, it sounds like: Tick-TAT, tick-TAT, tick-TAT.

[Small thing. Big idea.]

[Kyra Gaunt on the Jump Rope]

The jump rope is such a simple object. It can be made out of rope, a clothesline, twine. It has, like, a twirl on it. (Laughs) I'm not sure how to describe that. What's important is that it has a certain weight, and that they have that kind of whip sound.

It's not clear what the origin of the jump rope is. There's some evidence that it began in ancient Egypt, Phoenicia, and then it most likely traveled to North America with Dutch settlers. The rope became a big thing when women's clothes became more fitted and the pantaloon came into being. And so, girls were able to jump rope because their skirts wouldn't catch the ropes. Governesses used it to train their wards to jump rope. Even formerly enslaved African children in the antebellum South jumped rope, too.

In the 1950s, in Harlem, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, you could see on the sidewalk, lots of girls playing with ropes. Sometimes they would take two ropes and turn them as a single rope together, but you could separate them and turn them in like an eggbeater on each other. The skipping rope was like a steady timeline — tick, tick, tick, tick — upon which you can add rhymes and rhythms and chants. Those ropes created a space where we were able to contribute to something that was far greater than the neighborhood.

Double Dutch jump rope remains a powerful symbol of culture and identity for black women. Back from the 1950s to the 1970s, girls weren't supposed to play sports. Boys played baseball, basketball and football, and girls weren't allowed. A lot has changed, but in that era, girls would rule the playground. They'd make sure that boys weren't a part of that. It's their space, it's a girl-power space. It's where they get to shine.

But I also think it's for boys, because boys overheard those, which is why, I think, so many hip-hop artists sampled from things that they heard in black girls' game songs.

(Chanting) ... cold, thick shake, act like you know how to flip, Filet-O-Fish, Quarter Pounder, french fries, ice cold, thick shake, act like you know how to jump.

Why "Country Grammar" by Nelly became a Grammy Award-winning single was because people already knew "We're going down down baby your street in a Range Rover ... " That's the beginning of "Down down, baby, down down the roller coaster, sweet, sweet baby, I'll never let you go." All people who grew up in any black urban community would know that music. And so, it was a ready-made hit.

The Double Dutch rope playing helped maintain these songs and helped maintain the chants and the gestures that go along with it, which is very natural to what I call "kinetic orality" — word of mouth and word of body. It's the thing that gets passed down over generations. In some ways, the rope is the thing that helps carry it. You need some object to carry memory through.

So, a jump rope, you can use it for all different kinds of things. It crosses cultures. And I think it lasted because people need to move. And I think sometimes the simplest objects can make the most creative uses.