For over 30 years, a small fitness club in a Washington, D.C., suburb has grown into a jump rope team of 150 members. Known as the Kangaroo Kids, team members range in age from 6 to 26. They participate in local shows and regional jump rope competitions, and 15 of them will be part of the official United States team at the World Jump Rope Championship this July in South Africa. As Faith Lapidus tells us in this report by VOA's Faiza Elmasry, the Kangaroo Kids are helping redefine the sport with innovative tricks that combine exercise and dance.
With two of their teammates turning two ropes, two kids jump into the interweaving arcs and start Double Dutch bouncing. That's just one of the moves the Kangaroo Kids do while jumping rope… along with back flips, handstands and much more. Team Coach Jim McCleary says the kids showcase those moves at local competitions. They have to display their skills in an assortment of styles.
"We have like 9,10,11 different events in one day with speed, power, Double Dutch, free style and pairs," he says. "Then toward the end, we do a large group team show where they do some things with choreographed music. They mix all the different things and long ropes, all that in one 4-minute-show."
The Kangaroo Kids also compete in the International Rope Skipping Federation's competition known as "The Worlds."
"Since 1999, we've been going to the World Championships," he says. "In Canada, two years ago, we took about 15 jumpers. And all the 15 members that went won a medal of some type."
Scott Simpson, 17, won the silver medal that year and placed second in the senior masters Division. "Winning second when I was only 15 at the time was really a big deal for me." he says.
Jumping rope competitively over the last 11 years has been fun, but Simpson says it's also helped him develop skills and confidence.
"We're constantly turning upside down, turning around," he says. "It takes balance, agility, strength and spatial dynamics. I feel so comfortable going out and performing in front of tens of thousands of people, because I do it all the time. I learn leadership skills and how to work with different people."
Simpson also coaches younger jumpers and helps create new tricks and choreography. "I will choose pieces of music and make up my own routines," he says.
Jumping to music usually gives the routine a special style, according to Scott's mother, Kathy Simpson, who volunteers as a jump rope judge.
"Some kids choose to just have a background music," she says. "That's going to detract from their score. But if their steps and their movement across the floor is choreographed to the music, that just raises the score."
Her daughter, Amy, is also on the Kangaroo Kid's Worlds team that's going to compete this summer in South Africa. Amy says the Worlds is an opportunity for different teams to learn from one anther.
"People from Japan do a lot of break dancing more in their routines," she says. "The European teams have their own style of jumping. It's fun to see each different group adapts to the sport."
Amy and the other members of the World's team are currently practicing almost 20 hours a week. Their parents are always around, offering encouragement and preparing for the upcoming competition. Robin Madden, whose 15-year-old son Eli is on the team, says the trip to South Africa will cost between $3,000 and $4,000 per person.
"What the team decided to do is we formed a fundraising committee," she says. "And the committee has gone out to local businesses and people who might donate to us. We've gotten some very nice feedback."
She says many of the Kangaroo Kids' families have decided to travel with the team on this trip, to support the kids and the sport.
"They are trying to do some outreach where they go into townships to teach jump rope to some of the kids in South Africa," she says.
The Kangaroo Kids hope they will do more than come home with medals and recognition for their performance. They want to leave behind new jump rope enthusiasts, so they'll be promoting jump rope as an inexpensive sport that can help kids everywhere stay active and healthy.