UP ON SUGAR HILL: Double Dutch Dreamz gets it Jumping for the Community by Souleo

Reverend Malika Lee Whitney is out to prove that ropes can not only swing and bind, but they can contribute to personal development, forge greater community bonds and let everyone have a good ol’ time. As the artistic director of Pickney Productions and founder/coach of Double Dutch Dreamz, Whitney has been promoting double dutch for the past 10 years. Made up of 20 core members (with hundreds of others occasionally stepping into its swinging ropes), Double Dutch Dreamz has collaborated with the Apollo Theater, Camp Mariah (as in legendary singer, Mariah Carey), Afropunk Festival and the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling.

Photo by Michael Palma Mir

Photo by Michael Palma Mir

Double Dutch Dreamz first appeared during the Museum’s opening in October 2015 and this past August they held a Story Time program where participants jumped rope, shared playtime related stories and even marked up the Museum’s floors with creative drawings. Check out our conversation with Whitney about her vision for Double Dutch Dreamz, the organization’s relationship with the Museum and how double dutch can help strengthen communities.

On deciding to jump and then to keep on jumping:

As an educator and performing artist I’ve always found community play has an important role in the lives of children for a number of reasons. Double dutch is a healthy activity and one that invites more than singular satisfaction, since you’re working in a group of all genders and ages. With the advent of technology I thought of taking double dutch to the streets to involve communities in things that bring joy, satisfaction and fun. The skills acquired during double dutch transfer into other areas of personal growth and development. There are team spirit elements, confidence building and a sense of community being established because one can jump singularly with a rope, but it is more fun when done as a group. 

On addressing gender bias that may prevent parents from allowing boys to play double dutch:

We address it by having an open space that is not exclusionary. Some of the best jumpers I have seen have been boys. I think in all my years it came up as an issue once or twice where a parent may have opted out to something considered a more “appropriate” gender sport. But it hasn’t been an overarching issue. Part of the reason is that our participants are exposed to all of the arts. We go to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the African Film Festival, the Metropolitan Opera and so forth. So when parents take note of the wide variety of activities children can be part of they become enthused. 

Photo by Michael Palma Mir

Photo by Michael Palma Mir

On their Story Time program at the Museum:

We presented double dutch but with elements of story since the Museum has a great emphasis on storytelling. After having some demos of how to jump we asked adults and children about their storied play experiences. We had an intergenerational audience with elders sharing their experiences to very attuned young listeners. There were visuals of chalk games like hopscotch. The other wonderful element was the activity of being able to draw and do illustrations on the museum floor—with sheets and pastel markers—as we had music in the background. Often museums are places where you don’t touch anything, but drawing on the floor freed the space up.

On how programs like Double Dutch Dreamz can improve museums and communities:

I’ve been in and around museums for decades and very often certain programming is relegated to a particular time of the year. What I always want to see is an open door and sense of welcome happen all-year-round for the community. I really look forward to the Museum’s continued presence with programs like ours that really makes the community feel welcome. Programs like ours should erase the thought that these museum walls are hallowed and made only for someone else. Although all the neighborhoods designated as Harlem are changing, to have a cultural institution, like the Museum solidly planted on that ground is an important step.

Up on Sugar Hill is a monthly blog post developed by the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling and written by Souleo. Each month features highlights from the museum’s exhibitions, public programs and/or blog.