When a teenager named Izzy gives up boxing to join a jump rope team in Jump In!,
a Disney Channel original movie debuting January 12, his classmates taunt him for taking up a playground pastime made popular by little girls. Marcus Taylor, who taught lead actor Corbin Bleu his rope-skipping skills for the film, says the same thing used to happen to him while he was growing up. "I got teased all the time when I was younger," says Taylor, 20, who went on to become a world champion rope jumper in 2004. Now when people poke fun at him, Taylor just takes out his rope and wows them with his gravity-defying jumps, flips and tricks. "I know that jump roping is so cool," he says, adding that most people realize the same thing after seeing what he can do.
That's a big part of why jump roping has become more popular than ever. While most kids do it just for fun — nearly five million participated in the American Heart Association's Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser in 2006 — others are making a habit of it, and have helped it to become an intense international sport with its own world cup held every other year. Nearly 40 teams participated in the world competition held last July in Toronto, with a Belgian team placing first, USA taking the silver, and Australia nabbing the bronze. At the national level, some 850 athletes competed at the USA Jump Rope championships in Orlando last June. While some entrants excel in speed — the current world record is 190 hops in 30 seconds — others are known for their freestyle routines, which incorporate gymnastics and choreography into individual ("single rope") or group ("double dutch") performances.
As the number of competitors has increased, so too has interest in watching their increasingly intricate steps and athletic stunts. "When you watch it, it's really something that is incredibly mind-boggling, and you can't quite picture how they do that," says Bleu, 17, who performed most of his own tricks for Jump In!
Kelsy Moe, 22, became the female champion last year for moves such as the "double under frog" and "triple under," in which she performs handstands and jumps while twirling the rope around her body up to three times before her feet finally hit the ground. In addition to the Disney movie, which will air six times over the next five weeks, ESPN2 will broadcast the national championships on January 14 and February 13th, and the Discovery Channel is planning to air a documentary called Double Time,
which focuses on two top double dutch teams, later this year.