When I was at summer camp one summer in my adolescence, I learning synchronized swimming.
It was incredible.
I had always loved to swim. As soon as I could crawl practically, I was also in the pool. I was on swim teams throughout my childhood. Summers were spent practically living at the neighborhood pool with zinc oxide on my nose and forehead and fingers green or red from the boxes of jello powder we’d stick our fingers in and suck the sugary granules from for quick energy during the swim meets.
I was a shy kid, and large for my age, so I was a bit on the outskirts much of the time at school and socially. But the pool was a level playing area. I was a good swimmer, a strong one, and so I had some skills to bring to the team and so could feel a part of that whole, if not of the “in” crowd.
Then, at summer camp, being away from home helped me to break out of my shell a bit, to try on new parts of myself. I took new risks, and I even learned some new strokes, like the sidestroke, for water safety training (how to save someone from drowning,) which I loved.
And one particular summer, I learned synchronized swimming.
Looking back, that was pretty extraordinary, to have had someone there to teach that water sport.
I especially loved it because I was also obsessed early on in my life with movies. I watched the Million Dollar Movies channel religiously every day after school, catching all the old Hollywood classics, including films with the gorgeous and athletic water dancer, Esther Williams. Williams was an American competitive swimmer and actress who made a series of films in the 1940s and early 1950s known as “aquamusicals,” which featured elaborate performances with synchronized swimming and diving.
I loved all musicals, so naturally loved the movies that had her dancing in choreographed dances in the water with other dancer-swimmers. It is hard to imagine such a thing would be popular today, but to me, then, in the 70’s, it seemed glamorous and just more of the Hollywood musical movies world that I already knew I wanted to be a part of.
That summer at camp when I got to actually do what I had seen in the old movies, I got to feel like a beautiful mermaid movie star, and it was amazing. We even performed a small show for the other campers at the end of camp! It gave me such a wonderful feeling to be a part of a group, creating something beautiful. I think that was the beginning of a lifetime love affair of collaborating with other artists.
But more than that, it changed me in ways that are hard to articulate. It woke up something in me that I couldn’t hear at home where I was surrounded by reflections of myself that weren’t as vibrant or colorful as those I found in the waters and other campers at camp.
To this day, there are some synchronized swimming moves I still recall and often do, and when I do, I conjure up the magic of that summer, and my movie star mermaid days. The part of me that it awakened still lives on in my work and who I am, and I am so grateful for that.