Shimmy Shimmy Pow

Handclapping games, Double Dutch and other forms of jump rope and cheers have been passed down between generations of African American girls. According to Fisk University scholar Jessie Carney Smith, cheers help Black girls assert themselves and maintain positive self-esteem. It remains a significant part of community building among young African American women. What was your favorite cheer growing up?

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  1. This post really put a smile on my face. Not only do I remember playing “Down, Down Baby” I also remember this segment on Sesame Street. This transports me back to my childhood in the 80’s, a time when multitudes of children were seen playing in the streets of NYC. Hand games (like these, cheers and step routines, bike riding, hopscotch, and jump rope (double Dutch especially) were all elements of urban play. We didn’t have to go to the park to have a good time (even though it was 2 blocks away; the pavement in front of our building was as good of a space as any to have fun under our neighborhood’s supervision. Yes, this was a time when the village was responsible for its children. Unfortunately, scenes of children playing on NYC’s sidewalks are rare. I can’t bum a jump in double Dutch to save my life…no turners to be found! Loitering complaints, safety issues, and juvenile preference of technology over physical play keep our children inside, but are they really safer? Some are hanging out with older kids and/or spending way too much time online, both scenarios presenting opportunities to grow up too fast. What about their physical health? Childhood obesity is on the rise and other factors attributed to a sedentary lifestyle. Are we providing safe, accessible places for children to be children? What can we do to address this issue?


  2. Here is an alternate take on children’s hand games, specifically those that require dance moves.

    “Across the diaspora, black women often begin in girlhood to center their sexuality by performing with their backsides. Whether in the African-American ring game, “Little Sally Walker,” where young girls are encouraged to “shake it to the east, shake it to the west,” or in the similar Afro-Caribbean “Brown Girl in the Ring,” who is urged to “show me your motion,” these circles of black girls provide a female-centered space for affirmation and pleasure in their bodies, even as these scripts prepare them later for the male gaze. As adult women, this display becomes not only more sexualized but racialized as well, as black women find their bodies subject to misinterpretation and mislabeling by the dominant culture. Not only that, but these bodies no longer respond to self-motivated desires and expressions but to the requests of others—whether to black male desires in such hip-hop shouts as “shake what your Mama gave ya” and such [End Page 102] soca-calypso demands as “wine yuh waist,” or to other black women’s policing call to “tuck it in.” We may need to recreate that circle of women—first enacted in childhood—who reaffirm that our bodies are fine, normal, capable, and beautiful. We may also need to enlarge that circle to include men, who can challenge their own objectifying gazes, and non-blacks, who can overcome the equation of blackness with deviance. Most of all, black women, who have been unmirrored for so long, must confront the prevailing imagery of grotesque derrières and black female hypersexuality to distinguish the myths and lies from our own truths and the ways in which we wish to represent ourselves.”
    — The “Batty” Politic: Toward an Aesthetic of the Black Female Body by Janell Hobson


  3. Odia Barker

     /  March 31, 2013

    Watching this video emerged feelings of nostalgia. It warped me back into the 80’s and early 90s of my childhood. I sang along with the little girls in the video. I remember the many hand-clapping games so vividly. I wasn’t allowed to go to the park located a couple blocks away from my home. In hindsight, I think my mom didn’t think they were safe. The parks weren’t exactly inviting either with broken swings and strewn garbage which speaks a lot to the impoverished community in which I lived. Despite the rickety public parks, playing on my stoop (a term used in urban communities of color to describe their front porch or building) was fun and exciting. It fills me with such pride thinking of how creative and resourceful people of color are with limited means. I also agree with Francesca in that hand-clapping games provided a safe female centered space of affirmation. We definitely need more of these reaffirming spaces for our young women. However, back then my female friends and I taught our male friends the hand-clapping games too. They were very much immersed in those games as well as others such as jumping ‘single’ and ‘double dutch’. I presume it was the innocence of our young age and strong sense of community that created this inclusive space. Oh how I miss those days!


  4. Alexis P.

     /  May 6, 2013

    I absolutely loved playing these games as a child (even now actually) My favorite game was/is numbers especially “slide baby” YES this is real. I get so excited to play now as a 27 year old just for that old feeling. The sense of pride me and my friends had when we won tournaments (yes these are real too) How excited I was whenever my older sister taught me a new one and I couldn’t wait to go to school and teach my friends.

    I’m reminded of how easy it was to go up to another black girl and just play and become fast friends. I remember sitting in Ebony Garden’s park saying “sure got the rhythm of the head ding dong” and it being everyone’s favorite part. This was when my small town had pride and some sort of community feeling. The days where if any elder heard you being disrespectful they could beat you and then send you home for more. It’s why i get so excited when someone my age agrees to play because I know that those same memories are going through their mind just like mine.



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