Sunday, June 20, 2010

Did you SEE that?!

For the past two days, I've been working at the World Double Dutch Championship. For those of you who wonder what we're doing to Dutch people, twice, it's actually a jump rope contest. But this isn't your playground variety rope jumping. Although it began as a game for little girls on the sidewalks of New York, this isn't just for girls any more. It's two ropes + speed+ gymnastics= amazing!

Now I'll admit to not being thrilled when I was told my Friday and Saturday would be spent at the local Exhibition Center selling trinkets to tourists. But I got a floor level seat to all the action when those souvenirs weren't being purchased. I'm still not sure everything I witnessed was physically possible.

Although the economy made for fewer teams this year, it still began with the pomp and ceremony of the Olympics, complete with that theme song, as the teams strode into the Center, waving to the cheering fans who, quite frankly, cheered for everyone. I'll apologize now for the shot quality: I couldn't leave my post, meaning the box of money, and kept trying to work around that aggravating open bay door. First came the judges, then the teams. Although Double Dutch is expanding, the majority of the teams are still comprised of African-American kids. With one exception.

You always know when the crowd favorite has arrived
by the roar which fills the air.

I don't know if you've ever tried to turn rope for Double Dutch, but I have. You and your partner have to have the ultimate communication in order to even get the ropes going, each hand turning a rope in towards the other. The playground stuff is slow...and tiring after about 15 minutes. These kids go so fast, the ropes become a blur that soon are only a rhythmic, snapping a whip cracking. Even using a higher film speed, which usually captures all the action I need, see if you can spot the ropes.

Singles team

Doubles Team: yep, 2 in the rope at one time.

Don't you jump into a rope like this?
Well, usually he does a double BACK FLIP to enter.
And no, you aren't seeing double.
There's actually a jumper coming in from both sides.
At floor level you hear what the crowds in the stands can't: all the chatter going on between the 3/4 person teams. One rope turner is like a coach, calling out each move in the Compulsories, while the other rhythmically chants in between instructions, "Breathe, breathe!" Sounds silly? Not if you could see the speed. In what I considered something akin to torture, there is a "Speed Round" where a jumper has to jump as fast as possible for two minutes. Watching their feet, then glancing at the clock, I became aware of how L-O-N-G that is when going as fast as possible. And if you make a misstep or the turners tangle you up, you have to step out, then jump back in to finish. The only thing more painful than jumping was the 3 Judges who had to use thumb operated counters to MANUALLY keep up. The trick is to only count the number of times the left foot contacts the floor. I tried it. If you can't block out everything around you without becoming dizzy, you'd never be able to handle it. This Japanese kid in the high school division was the crowd favorite. Which is why he might one day go blind.... from all the photos taken of him. At one point, I had three of THEIR cameras to take group shots with. Even the Judges got in on the act. Why?

Because Jack Be Nimble here was the fastest: 300 times in 2 minutes.
That's just counting ONE foot.
Try tapping your feet for 2 minutes and see how fast you are...
if you don't cramp up first.

Ah, Team Japan.
Bringing 4 teams from ages 10 to High School,
they were the highlight of the two day event.
Polite, charming and very proud of their perfectly pronounced English "Thank you!", which they used often, they were such a wonderful change of pace from the bickering I've experienced the past two weeks. And whenever a camera came into view, so did their peace signs. The guy in front was also a Judge. Please don't judge him for his Jerry Lewis "Nutty Professor" glasses....he was a port of calm in all that organized chaos. I never found out all their names, but I began mentally assigning them names.

Meet Mr. Miyagi.
Remember him from "The Karate Kid"?
Stern task master with heart of gold...camouflaged by tough tactics.
That's who I began thinking of this coach as; expression usually stern, his concentration almost as fierce as his video camera skills. Every time a group from Japan came off the floor, they ran to him and he replayed their performance, pointing out with vivid hand motions where they went astray. This was as close to smiling as I ever saw him. His girls, the youngest group of 4, won their first Blue ribbon...and immediately burst into tears. Here he put down his camera to watch them. I feared they were about to get lectured for such a public display of emotion. As soon as I took this shot, he burst into the most gleaming smile you've ever seen. Then the formidable task master comforted each girl in turn as tears of joy streamed down their faces for the next 10 minutes.

Here we have Mr. & Mrs. Nomura...a tribute to good parenthood.
Okay, so I know their name because of what happened when I made a cultural faux pas...and no one scolded me for it. Dad here had video taped from every angle possible in that facility and the smile never left his face. On the floor during the ceremony, he carefully kept out of my shots and I did the same for him. He was so filled with joy that I wanted to capture it. Not thinking how male dominated their society still is, I pointed at him, and held up my hand in the universal "Stop where you are" position. He did, thinking he'd done something wrong until I raised my camera in one hand and smiled at him. At which point I wondered if I'd crossed the line into international incident. That's when Mama-san saw me, smiled and jumped into the picture too. Right after this, Dad handed me a business card with his daughter's picture on it, in Japanese and English, complete with e-mail address. He then did what no one else had done: he asked me MY name. Sure, it was a stilted conversation but we both enjoyed it.

And then there's my favorite: The Professor
I went to take a shot of Jack Be Nimble when he stepped in front of me.
Made an interesting shot within a shot.
Coach of a team consisting of 2 girls and 2 boys about 10 years old, he was the kindest of the group. He didn't just tell them what to do, he ran over and stood close by wherever they performed, as if reassuring them they weren't alone in a strange country. A cross between Mother Hen and Doting Dad, he praised his kids when they did well and had the ability to turn frustrated frowns into ghostly smiles which grew into giggles. He was the master of the high five. And if he ever made eye contact with you, he would smile broadly, as if seeing a friend. That smile was so contagious even the grumpy woman next to me selling the t-shirts would smile back girlishly in spite of herself as her 2 grown sons looked on, somewhat disconcerted.

On Saturday the Prof came over to look for additional small items to purchase: how they kept up with American money amazed me. Team Japan and I came up with our own system for this which amused both of us. The entire team had purchased t-shirts in every color (3) the day before and had bought most of the more economical items on my table then as well. The Prof eyed things carefully, then his gaze settled on window decals with the meet logo on them. I inwardly groaned: they were $5 each, an exorbitant price that even I wouldn't have paid. He nodded, repeated the price then began to mutter and count on his fingers. When I looked at him he said softly, "I'm counting the children that I teach at home. I wanted to bring them something. I think I can," he said, opening his wallet, still mentally naming names.

He was talking to the right person. For if there's one thing a southerner can't stand it's something silly standing in the way of kindness. I asked him to wait for a moment, then went over to my Boss. Everyone knows that the last 2 hours of a competition generally means slashing prices...but not on the stuff I had. Leaning down I asked my Boss if we could cut the prices of the decals, which everyone had been complaining about anyway. She seemed shocked to hear what we were charging, gave me a choice of two prices and told me to handle it.

So I did. Walking back to the Professor, I held up two fingers. Hey, so I chose the lowest price. You think "sucker", I'll continue to believe "kindness". The Prof's eyes lit up and he stared at me for a moment. "You are sure?" he asked again in that gentle tone which made me remember all the good teachers I'd ever had. They spoke the same way. Measured, kind yet leaving no doubt they were in charge. I nodded and counted out the 10 he needed, with him thanking me over and over so graciously I didn't know whether to feel good or embarrassed. He bought the last of the patches from the grumpy lady, then turned to me again with "Thank you so much." I don't think I've ever heard a more sincere bit of gratitude. And Savannah will understand how it took all the decorum left in me not to give him a hug before he walked away.

Here's the front side of the Prof. I did the same hand gesture to slow him down as I did for the Devoted Dad. He nodded, standing still with his best coach face on until I raised the camera.
Peace be with you too Prof.
Hope to see you next year.


Jingle said...

May love and peace be with you.
Happy Sunday!

Bill ~ {The Old Fart} said...

I used to Double Dutch when I was a Kid growing up in the 1970s. I had a crush on the Girl Next Door, she was a Farmer's Daughter.

We went our ways as we got older, and no, I don't Double Dutch anymore.

Wishing you a wonderful Sunday.

savannah said...

I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS POST, SUGAR!!!!! seriously, i was smiling the entire time as i was reading and yes, bless your heart, i totally understand! ;~)

hope said...

Thanks Jingle! Hope you have a wonderful week.

Bill...I am impressed! :) So did you turn or actually jump too? Here's wishing you a great week ahead!

Savannah, every time the kids drive me nuts tomorrow, and they will try, I will envision the island of calmness that was the Prof. And probably wish we could change places for the day. :) He had quite the presence...and I bet you would've hugged him without hesitation. ;)

Jerry said...

Not only a vivid account of a sport I knew nothing about -- but a wonderful, moving introduction to the wonderful people involved with it.

hope said...

Thanks Jerry! They were so kind and interested in everything that here I am a week later and I swear, I think I miss them. :)

steveroni said...

Are there really happy Peeps EVERYWHERE in the world, no matter the language or culture. And understanding also, of faux pas?
GREAT story and pics. Thanks!

Susan at Stony River said...

I've seen these double-dutchers on TV a long time ago and my jaw was on the floor the whole time. It was amazing what they could do -- and you had a good point, in school we couldn't even get the ropes coordinated LOL