Robbin Ebb remembers vividly going to work out at a DC Department of Parks and Recreation center in 2004 with her friend, Joy Jones, and seeing Jones start DC Retro Jumpers, a jump rope exercise program designed for adults, that would thrive and become a popular Double Dutch and fitness movement within the metropolitan region.
Ebb is the Lead Instructor and Director while Jones – the founder – remains a “happy participant.” Their friendship and collaboration created a wholesomely dynamic program, enjoyed by adults, which emanated from a childhood hobby. DC Retro Jumpers is now an exhibition team of adult jumpers whose motto can be found on their website – dcretrojumpers.com – “Not everybody likes to exercise, but everybody likes to play.”
History of DC Retro Jumpers
“We started off as a team of eight middle-aged adults with weekly jump rope sessions. We are good at teaching. When we get somebody who has not jumped rope in a long while and she may be hesitant, we teach them to get right back into it. The same thing with somebody who has never jumped rope before in his life and who may think he cannot do it. We teach him the ropes and how to do it,” said Jones, now sixty-seven and semi-retired. She works for the District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL) as a Library Associate.
She has a few tips for those learning to Double Dutch for the first time. The first piece of advice is to bounce a little bit, look straight ahead, and not at your feet. Jump rope to music if possible. It makes it easier to get your rhythm and timing. Finally, reminisce about a fun childhood experience. The memory, Jones attests, need not have anything to do with jumping rope.
Double Dutch 4 Fun
Ebb is a former substitute teacher in the District of Columbia who worked in physical education. The Ward 7 resident has lived in the Marshall Heights for the past 21 years. Ebb was so enticed and enamored with DC Retro Jumpers that she started a similar program – Double Dutch 4 Fun – in 2012 especially for school-aged children.
“Sometimes I have 12 to 24 kids on a field at one time. [On June 29th] we had fifty kids in camp. I am in the midst of recruiting even more students from pre-K to sixth grade to join us,” said Ebb, 57, who uses her successful “bunny hop” method to teach adults and children alike how to jump Double Dutch.
“Some just want to jump single rope while others want to do Double Dutch. It doesn’t matter. They are both fun and you get exercise either way.”
Double Dutch 4 Fun has been in no less than two hundred schools, campuses, and events in the area. Included in those learning institutions are Anacostia High School, Ballou High School, Kelly Miller Middle School, Sousa Middle School, Ketcham Elementary School, and Savoy Elementary School to name a few. Like DC Retro Jumpers, Double Dutch 4 fun is constantly being invited to appear and participate in various programs and events. Their dance card stays filled.
Visit to the Soviet Union
In September 2018, the DC Retro Jumpers served as cultural ambassadors to Russia. The culture ambassadors, which included Ebb, Jones, Myra Martin Morgan, and Carlyle Prince (Ebb’s sister), displayed their Double Dutch skills in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Belgorod.
They spent a total of 10 days in Russia with their handler, Mary McBride, who heard about the group, saw them in person, and immediately invited them to go along with her band to Russia as cultural ambassadors. McBride is the Founder and Executive Director of The Forum for Cultural Engagement.
One of those performances occurred at the Spaso House which is the elegant home in Russia where the American ambassador resides. At that time Ambassador Jon Huntsman, Jr. welcomed the cultural ambassadors.
Double Dutch’s Historical Context
According to information obtained from the website (aaregistry.org) of the African American Registry (AAREG), jump rope activity can be traced back to 1600 A.D. when the Egyptians used vines for jumping. Evolving from Africa, Double Dutch is historically a jump rope game played mostly by girls of African descent around every region in the United States.
The first concrete evidence of jump rope activity can be seen in medieval paintings where children jump rope down the cobblestone streets of Europe. Early explorers, from their expeditions, documented Aboriginal people jumping with flexible bamboo and vines as a form of sport and play.
After World War II, Double Dutch appeared regularly on the sidewalks of New York City where mothers, neighbors, and the community could keep a watchful eye on their children. In the last quarter-century, the interest for Double Dutch has widened and moved it into international competition.
Ebb has performing arts and talent in her blood. She is the daughter of the late (Charles James) Russell Nesbit, gained popularity as an acrobat, model, and coach in the nation’s capital in the 1950’s. Nesbit taught acrobatics to a legion of children in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood where he lived and established the Flying Nesbits acrobatic troupe that included his then wife and their son.
Nesbit, who died at the age of 81 in 2001, was an opening act for notable artists like James Brown, Billy Eckstine, Gladys Knight, and the Spinners. He may be best remembered for walking down the 898-step interior of the Washington Monument – on his hands in 1962.
“He is the reason why I do what I do,” Ebb proclaimed proudly.
Besides beginning a program that has helped revitalize Double Dutch in the area, Jones has written a total of five books including her most recent entitled “Jayla Jumps In.” The book is about a 11-year-old girl discovering the joy of Double Dutch during a large family gathering at Thanksgiving. She falls in love with the sport and then forms a multigenerational team, made up of family members, which succeeds in improving the family’s overall health. The book is set in Southeast in the Hillcrest community.
Every Thursday at Martha’s Table, located at 2375 Elvans Road, SE, between the hours of 5:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., DC Retro Jumpers practice their jump roping. They are scheduled to be at the Anacostia Park Skating Pavilion, located at 1500 Anacostia Drive, for an event on October 1. DC Retro Jumpers have also been invited to two events – one on August 2 (National Night Out at the Piney Branch Elementary School) and the 14th Annual Play Day on September 24 – by Pat Rumbaugh, one of their biggest fans.
“I heard about Robbin and invited her to a play day,” said Rumbaugh who founded a play committee (letsplayamerica.org) about 14 years ago.
“She teaches people Double Dutch so easily. Our mayor of Takoma Park (Maryland) learned and loves it. I recognize the beauty of it. You feel such a sense of accomplishment after you do it,” said Rumbaugh.