Mermettes

MY PERSONAL VERSION OF ESTHER WILLIAMS

Senior year, College of William & Mary…it was time to achieve something new besides studying and writing news stories. I’d always loved swimming and Esther Williams’ water epic movies. The college had a small synchronized swimming club that put on a show in the spring. My good friend Diana and I tried out for Mermettes and were both accepted.

All the practice sessions in the Olympic pool over a period of several months were the perfect way to get in shape. I don’t think either one of us realized the work involved in learning how to do the special styles required for this form of water ballet.

One of the tricks of synchronized swimming is learning to scull, which is a unique way to move your entire body by using just hand motion. Keeping your arms straight by your side, we learned to slightly cup our hands and turn them into small propellers. The cupped hands can go in circles or can sweep the water in all directions. It’s essentially a hidden motion and a unique way to float and propel your body feet first, for instance. I can still scull and love to show it to kids.

The Spring show at the new Adair gym was a success with the bleachers full. The first presentation, performed by the entire group, was swimming to the beautifully orchestrated song “Bali Hai” from the musical “South Pacific.” We all had flutter boards, a fairly small flotation device also called a kickboard, to hold. We stole large magnolia leaves from campus trees to pin onto the boards and added magnolia blossoms (It was Spring and the blossoms were in full bloom. Coincidentally, I live a half block from Magnolia Avenue here in LA and when the blossoms come out, it always reminds me of my Esther Williams’ days!). The lighting was atmospheric and the entire group swam in a circle to the music. Holding the decorated boards with one hand, we swam a version of the sidestroke, raising one hand in a ballet movement. We must have done something more than swim in a circle but darned if I can remember what!

MermettesShow#1                                          In the changing room dressed as an African with a bit of makeup and ready to “kill” a wet lion.

 

I was also in the African number, which had its own special difficulties. We portrayed African hunters chasing a lion and wore plastic grass skirts, a colorful bib of sorts and carried spears, as my photo shows. Since plastic floats, we had to wet the skirts before we wore them or they would all float on top of the water and ruin the effect. The wet plastic was heavy and made it difficult to swim, but the show must go on. I wish I remembered the jungle music we used but recall being pleased with the show, as was our audience.

The Mermettes at William & Mary are much more professional these days and have sent me, as a former member, brochures about their progress. These modern gals compete with other colleges as a synchronized swimming team. They are also very hardy—one of the photos showed them in swimsuits lined up outside in the winter snow!

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