It starts with a simple hop and jump,feet tapping lightly to the sound of music. Then the taps become dizzyingly fast and the jumps incrementally quicker,making it impossible to follow the soaring moves. Before you know it,the plain hopping routine has turned into a dance spectacle-full of jigs and flips; head spins and swipes; drops,flares and six-steps.
Except that this is not dance. This is sport. And it is played using a skipping rope. People dismiss ropeskipping (or jump rope) as just another exercise,but its more like rhythm gymnastics. Indians know it as the simple skip and jump,when the truth is that there are more than 950 techniques to it, says Bhim Sen Varma,General Secretary of the Rope Skipping Federation of India (RSFI),who founded RSFI in 2000,with a couple of like-minded individuals.
Since then,both the federation and the sport have come a long way,having a presence in most states of the country and reaching out to students,many of whom are taking it up seriously. At the Asian Games held in the capital in 2007,India even won 26 medals in it.
I have been jumping rope since I was 8. Why I do it? It is fun, says Deepika,an 11-year-old skipper from Kulachi Hansraj School,Delhi,and a national level gold medalist.
Things were not this much fun in the beginning. Nirdesh Kumar,a bronze medal winner at the 3rd Asian Games and the head coach of RSFI says when they had started out,they were laughed at by many school principals for even thinking of teaching skipping.
Now,many organisations such as the School Games Federation of India,Kendriya Vidyalaya schools and CBSE recognise rope skipping as a sport. In fact,CBSE has even made it a part of its Class XI Physical Education curriculum. We have taught the sport to police officers,boxers,cricketers,athletes and even the elderly, Kumar says.
But why skip? Jump rope is a game of endurance,speed and sportsmanship. It is non-combative,it is inexpensive (all you need is a skipping rope),it builds endurance and anyone can do it. Ten minutes of it is equivalent to 30 minutes of jogging. It has amazing health benefits,but most importantly its enjoyable. So why not? says Harpal Singh Flora,President of RSFI.
In Delhi alone,thousands of children have taken to rope skipping. We started out with a single coach,but now we have more than 25 coaches who go to different schools in the capital,and teach kids for an hour or two every week. Then,there are summer camps organised by SAI (Sports Authority of India), Kumar says.
In fact,many kids who trained with him have also turned coaches. I coach during the week and train during the weekend, says Tarun Tiwari,a gold medalist at the recently held national games. At the school games held last year,Delhi even grabbed the first position in rope skipping.
So what does skipping rope entail? It is what you make of it. The sport is as versatile as it is creative. You can participate individually in speed hopping,sprinting or skipping events (30 second power skipping),or go completely freestyle. Then there are team events freestyle,speed relays,double Dutch events (done with at least two ropes or more) that combine music and dance with skipping,allowing skippers to experiment with not just skill,but also flair,style and moves, Varma says.
I loved to dance,but jump rope adds a whole new dimension to what I do. For me,it diminished the line between dance and sport, Mukul Sohwal,an ace double Dutch Delhi skipper,says.
Many hurdles though still remain for the sport. Although we have been recognised by accredited international organisations,such as International Rope Skipping Federation,the support from the Sports Ministry has been nil. The popularity of the sport has helped us organise and fund events,but we definitely need government support to train our skippers and coaches better and compete internationally, says Flora,who along with Kumar and Varma,have been sustaining the federation through their own pockets.
Funds or no funds,lets hope,that the ropes popularity is enough to help the sport leap to a brighter future.