Do It Like Esther Williams

Glitter, swim caps and hope: that’s all you need on the road to aquatic glory.

Well, maybe add some blinding white cleanroom suits…

and fly wings…


and a giant inflatable pink flamingo.


SynchroSwim 2015, the annual synchronized swimming performance art competition created by Washington Project for the Arts (WPA) dazzled the audience at the Capitol Skyline Hotel on Saturday, August 15.

WPA is a non-profit dedicated to promoting contemporary art and artists in Washington, DC by providing non-traditional exhibition spaces, free professional development workshops, and exposure through the annually published WPA Artists Directory. In a city where museums and monuments often divert attention from galleries and studios, WPA plays a critical role in supporting independent artists and engaging the public in their work. And as the force behind the Laser Cat extravaganza earlier this year, WPA has a talent for staging novel, decidedly unstuffy art happenings.

SynchroSwim spectators wearing bikinis and swim shorts lounged in deck chairs in the sun, sipping cocktails while contestants in every color of spandex marched toward the edge of the pool to slip, step or splash into their performances. Enthusiastic teams in nose clips smiled while dazzling the audience with routines about everything from strong women to water shortages to interstellar travel. Musical selections included the theme from Star Wars, Meghan Trainor’s All About that Bass and two earworms from the Netflix series “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”: the show’s theme song and the breakout hit “Peeno Noir.”Performances included both artistic and satirical sets involving (mostly) timed arm movements, (generally) upright leg lifts and floating human stars.

Okay, so some of the performances were less than precise. The point of this was not to send anyone to the Olympics. But what was the point? And how does this fit in with WPA’s mission in the arts?

“SynchroSwim fits within the mission of WPA because we work to serve as a catalyst for art in Washington, DC, sparking public dialogue on contemporary art and serving artists at all stages of their careers,” said Samantha May, program director and acting executive director of WPA.

The event drew a record nine teams this summer. Attendees of previous SynchroSwims noted that this year’s audience was also larger than ever.

Mary “Flamingo” Greer and Pam Larson attended last year, and talked about forming a team with friends who worked out together at DC Fit 10 gym. But it wasn’t until one of them actually registered for the event a couple of months ago that they actually considered what they would do.

“It all started with the flamingo,” said Greer. She saw the giant inflatable pink flamingo pool toy in a store and snagged it for their team, the DCFit-tastics. With one month to go, they trained in earnest with a plan to overcome their biggest obstacle:

“One of the people on our team can’t swim,” said a team member. “I won’t tell you which one.”

Another DCFit-tastic member smiled and piped in, sotto voce: “It’s the one in the pink flamingo.”

Baltimore-based Fluid Movement, on the other hand, came into the competition with a little more experience. The group stages water ballets and roller ballets on a regular basis to bring visibility to Baltimore’s public pools and recreation spaces. Fresh from their staging of “Goldblum: the Water Ballet,” they performed “The Flies” at SynchroSwim and flew away with first prize in the Visual Spectacle category.

First prize in Execution went to DC Synchromasters for their salute to body image a la “All About That Bass,” and the Audience Favorite was team “Intergalacticon” for its salute to “rocket launches, astronauts, starships, the silent beauty of a thousand thousand alien suns, and shiny metallic outfits.”

After the winners’ trophies and checks were handed out, a giant yellow rubber ducky and a floating purple dragon joined the pink flamingo in the pool. Dance music thumped, beer-ritas flowed, and the party splashed on.

About the Author: Tara Campbell is a DC-based writer of crossover science fiction. If she were ever to participate in SynchroSwim, she would be the one in the pink flamingo.