A community in sync Performance: Organizers of the Stoneleigh pool's 43rd annual water ballet, popular among the close-knit community, say this is not competitive synchronized swimming but an event for fun.

August 26, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

After weeks of practicing pinwheel dolphins, shout strokes and alligator kicks, the moment of truth arrived yesterday for 60 Towson synchronized swimmers.

Ponytails bobbed, sequins sparkled and chiffon scarves flowed as the young people dove, jumped and kicked to songs from the '50s and '60s during the 43rd annual water ballet at the Stoneleigh community pool.

The performance -- in many respects a quaint anachronism in these days of competitive freestyle swimming -- has never been more popular in the close-knit community. More than 200 parents, friends and neighbors showed up for the event that has become a ritual the Sunday before school starts.

"It's a lot of fun," said Richard Skayhan, 13, one of nine boys in the swim troupe. "The kids get to goof off and do stuff they're not allowed to do in the pool."

Like jump off the lifeguard chairs, added Brian Comber, 12.

His mother, Pat Comber, 41, and her sisters, Mary Margaret Prahme, 45, and Maureen Huether, 39, organize the event. For the past three years, the women have been immersed in the project they've dabbled in over the years, taking time off to "get married and have babies."

They come with good credentials: The former McElroy girls, who grew up in Stoneleigh, were in the show in the 1960s. "We're hams," said Huether, laughing, at a recent 8: 30 a.m. practice. "We're too old to do it now, but this way we can do it."

On Wednesday, the women were putting the finishing touches on the show, whose theme was "At the Hop." Last year, they chose big-band music. Next year, it might be disco, they say.

With cups of coffee in hand, the sisters gently cajoled the still-sleepy children -- ages 8 to 16 -- through 22 routines, often dancing along with them.

The women spent months scripting, choreographing and devising costumes for the production that is part vaudeville, part Broadway. "We want you to have fun, but we also want you to look good," Comber instructed. "Lines are what we are going to be picky about."

By yesterday, her worries were unfounded -- after all, even if the formations had a slight squiggle, who couldn't get caught up in the oldies songs that had people toe-tapping on the sidelines?

In the opening number, "At the Hop," girls in poodle skirts jitterbugged and boys in white T-shirts with rolled-up sleeves pulled people out of the audience to join in.

In the comic "Yakety Yak," the boys sported Groucho Marx mustaches; the girls wore gingham aprons. In a version of "Love Potion No. 9," the girls, in black bathing suits, added black tights and red garters.

Lifeguard Jason Cimbolo, 18, who witnessed the young people's progress over the past three weeks, said, "It was really neat to watch them from the first day when everybody was rusty. They really worked hard."

The organizers point out that this is not traditional competitive synchronized swimming -- an Olympic sport -- which is performed to instrumental music.

The performance is strictly for fun, Comber said. But practicing for it also teaches the young people skills, too. "To do synchronized swimming, you have to have stamina, strength and endurance," she said.

But Debbie Beck, the mother of swimmers Lauren, 15, and Jennifer, 13, said it has another benefit. "It's a way for children to get involved at an early age in being part of the community," she said. "It's a thrill to see the number of community -- parents, aunts, grandparents -- come here. It's bonding. That's what I like."

Pub Date: 8/26/96

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