Off-Ramp's Elyssa Dudley reports on the resurfacing of synchronized swimming.
A few years ago, synchronized swimming seemed like a lost art, a throwback to the 1940s, with its flowered swimming caps and one-piece swimsuits. But now, synchronized swimmers are surfacing in everything from fashion ads to music videos. Is it a true renaissance or just a flash in the pool?
"When you're thinking of those 1940s images of synchronized swimmers, you're thinking of an Esther Williams musical, you're thinking of a Busby Berkeley movie, you're thinking of her legacy," says Mary Jeanette, team captain of a Los Angeles-based synchronized team called the Aqualillies.
Williams became a synchronized swimming sensation in the '40s and '50s after starring in a handful of MGM “aquamusicals,” which were like your average musical, but with water. Williams died in 2013, but there’s a good chance the image you have of synchronized swimming — bright red lipstick, beaming smiles and poise — is because of Esther Williams.
After the Esther Williams golden age of synchronized swimming, the art form pretty much died out everywhere except the Olympics. But now, a renaissance is being led by groups like the Aqualillies, with cameos in music videos like Justin Bieber’s “Beauty And A Beat” featuring Nicki Minaj:
And the show "Glee":
As well as performing at Justin Timberlake’s private birthday party, entertaining at fashion shows for Guess and Vogue and posing for a Chanel ad.
(Chanel ad featuring Aqualilly Alex Stensby. Photo by Patrick Demarchelier.)
"I think it really feels powerful to be in the water. You can do things that you can't do in other places when you're in the water, but you also have to work in an entirely different way," says Mary Jeanette. "But the nice thing is that you know that your friends to the right, and the left, and in front of you are all doing that same thing with you."
This summer, the Aqualillies are teaching classes for beginners at the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica and Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City.
"I thought that I would take to it really naturally because of my background in dance, but it's like a whole other animal. The dancing definitely helps, but it's like dancing and then trying not to drown," says dancer Sara Fenton.
Jeanette says a lot of her students come for the nostalgia and glamour of synchronized swimming, but soon find out that it's an intense workout too.
"There's a huge problem with doing synchronized swimming as a fitness activity, and that is that it's addictive. The workout is like nothing else. It's like cardio pilates in water. There's something almost therapeutic about it as well," says Anita D'Alessandro, who's been taking classes with the Aqualillies for years. "Moving to music, the feeling of no gravity in the water, and the floating — I don't know, there's just something magical about it."
For more information about taking classes with the Aqualillies, visit their website.