Tina Book delivered an introduction worthy of a world-renowned rock star.
"Ladies and gentleman, get ready for a show that will amaze you!" Book intoned into a microphone from her spot standing against the wall in the Red Hawk Ridge Elementary School gym on Feb. 15.
As Book, the school's physical education teacher, delivered her spiel with all the gusto of a carnival barker, a troop of more than a dozen students ran out onto the carpeted floor toting pogo sticks, rubber balls and a whole mess of jump ropes. Book offered a final piece of advice for the crew crowding onto the gym floor: "Have fun!"
What followed was a dizzying display of acrobatics, a coordinated showcase of jumps, flips, cartwheels and leaps, with some push-ups and dance moves thrown in for good measure. The performing members of Red Hawk Ridge's Jump Rope Team put on a show that's wowed audiences at halftime shows at sports venues across the metro area, including at CCSD high schools and local colleges. The students effortlessly pulled off long rope tricks with names like the "Double Dutch," the "Triple V" and the "Black Diamond." All the while, they added to the repertoire of standard jump rope tricks, weaving in and out of the rotating ropes on pogo sticks and bouncy balls, adding push-ups and basketball throws to their routines.
And this was just a practice session.
Even though the team was rehearsing for their next public performance during their regular after-school meeting time, they approached their routines with all the seriousness and dedication of a professional troupe of acrobats. When it came time to act as turners, or those paired sets in charge of spinning the rope, the students were carefully coordinated and focused on timing. When it was their turn to leap, jump and perform tricks, they were completely immersed in the moment, striving to execute every move with precision.
According to Book, who's been involved with the Red Hawk Ridge Jump Rope Club since the school opened in 2005, that brand of focus is one of the greatest benefits for members. For the 20 or so club members who are on the performing team, and for the dozens of others who are more casually involved in the after-school organization, learning these jump rope routines has myriad benefits.
"It's a matter of teaching them the skills and the teamwork, and having them be committed to the team. It's working on relationships and problem-solving," Book said. "This club gives everyone a chance to shine. The turners work together to make sure they're turning at the exact same time; they're watching the jumpers' feet and communicating."
For those students on the team that formally performs at school functions and halftime shows at high schools like Grandview and colleges like Metropolitan State University of Denver and the University of Denver, the club offers another perk: the chance to perform in public and build up a degree of confidence.
"To see some of these kids that were so shy and now they're out performing … they're so proud," Book said. "When we go to perform at DU and we're in the big arena, some kids say, 'I want to go to college here.' They feel important; they're more willing to take chances and risks."
Cami Mojica, a 10-year-old in the fifth grade at Red Hawk Ridge, signed up for the club after seeing a performance at a school function two years ago. She effortlessly performs some of the most impressive acrobatic feats in the performances, cartwheeling and flipping onto the floor before taking part in the jump rope routines.
"My favorite part is opening the show with my friend – I get to do my round-off, back-hand spring and she gets to do her aerial," Mojica said. "I really have to trust my turners, because if they don't come to me, then I can't do my trick. It depends on all of us. I really trust them."
Focusing on her own routines and the timing of her fellow team members has taught Mojica an important lesson about performing under pressure. When the team has headed to massive arenas to perform in front of hundreds of spectators, Mojica has learned to keep her attention focused squarely on the tasks at hand.
"You just have to focus on what you're doing and the people around you – not the people looking at you," Mojica said.