In the mid 1970s David Walker, a New York City police detective, and his partner Ulysses Williams began to organize a local Double Dutch competition at Lincoln Center’s plaza. It was a tradition that continued into the ’80s but eventually outgrew the location as Walker and Williams pushed it to become a national sport, eventually forming the American Double Dutch League.
The fact that the art of Double Dutch was once performed on the Metropolitan Opera’s lawn was nearly lost to time before Jill Sternheimer, the director of public programming at Lincoln Center, found a piece of its history. In a New York Times article, she recounts how she stumbled across Skip Blumberg’s documentary 1981, “Pick Up Your Feet: The Double Dutch Show,” chronicling a competition on the plaza, which inspired her to bring Double Dutch back to Lincoln Center.
Now Lincoln Center will host a full weekend celebrating the legacy of Double Dutch, including demonstrations, a screening of Blumberg’s film, and a national “Double Dutch Summer Classic” competition featuring competitors as young as fourth-graders and including 50 teams.
Double Dutch first came from, as the name implies, Dutch settlers who holed up in New York (then New Amsterdam) and would go on to flourish in cities. But the importance of bringing Double Dutch back to Lincoln Center, for Sternheimer, is that it emphasizes the sport has long been an art form, particularly one created by and for women of color.
“I saw all of the black and brown faces on the plaza of Lincoln Center,” she told the paper. “In my lifetime, I haven’t seen that happen ever again. I thought, we have to revitalize this competition, but it has to be more than just a competition.”
Now Double Dutch, ever since 2009, is considered a varsity sport in public schools. And even though Walker and Williams’ Double Dutch competition at Lincoln Center went on to inspire similar competitions around the world, its roots will always be in New York City.