PAGE THREE Dispatch From the Pool

Learning to Live the Life Aquatic

Preparing for a meet in Paris requires stamina -- and choreography.
Preparing for a meet in Paris requires stamina -- and choreography. (Courtesy Of Wonkee Moon)
Thursday, April 17, 2008

Our lives are divided into cultures, subcultures and circles -- our families, our schools, our jobs, our churches, our pastimes.

Washington has a little bit of something for everybody: Korean supermarkets, Jamaican roti shops, bubble tea stands and a gay swim team.

After joining the team solely for dating purposes, I was a little dismayed to discover I was the only gay woman. But I was more alarmed to discover I had joined one of the most competitive teams in the area.

We practice for an hour and a half six days a week, compete voraciously against other local teams and have an Internet mailing list that pumps out e-mail announcements by the hour.

Besides local meets, my team also competes in the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics competition, which the team has won eight times since 1995.

Last year, my swim team flew to Paris. Competing in IGLA with "the Boys" were nine of "the Girls" (eight were straight).

While IGLA is strictly a pool event, it has an unusual mandatory competition: the Pink Flamingo, a dance routine that each team is required to perform on the final day of competition. Your performance will not affect your team's standing in the swim events, but to sweep IGLA, your team needs to win a majority of the races and the coveted Pink Flamingo trophy.

My swim team was gunning to sweep IGLA.

The Pink Flamingo is not a one-song drag show. It is a five-minute performance and must include land and water components. After word got out that the teams from Los Angeles and New York had hired professional choreographers, swim practices were shortened from 90 minutes to 60 to give our dancers time to rehearse on the pool deck. And angry e-mails began cluttering the team mailing list, recommending that certain unnamed people who hadn't gotten the choreography down "seriously reconsider whether they were right for the D.C. Water Frolickers."

One of the coveted starring roles was given to Brenda, a recently divorced 40-year-old engineer, who never anticipated she would be flying to Paris to perform a poolside dance routine at an IGLA meet. Brenda is normally a cheerful, gregarious woman who greets everyone with a smile. But as IGLA approached and the mandatory Pink Flamingo rehearsals picked up speed, Brenda began to look grim. Forty-five minutes of pre-swim dancing was starting to get to her, not to mention the pressure of her starring role.

Paris was starting to look less and less fun and more like a work camp, especially after it was announced that Pink Flamingo rehearsal would be mandatory every night in Paris. Some of us opted out of the trip.

After Team D.C. jetted off without us, we lost our smug attitudes. Without a group of gyrating swimmers in pink suits on the edge of the deck, we lingered at the end of the lanes, taking twice as many breaks and barely pushing it. With the most zealous members of the team pivoting away to a Celine Dion dance track in Paris, it just didn't seem worth it.

Our team returned from Paris, coming in second overall. We had not won the Pink Flamingo. They didn't seem disappointed; they still had that special glow of the long-distance traveler. Swim practice went back to 90 minutes. There was no dillydallying at the end of the lane between sets. And a new compulsion gripped the team: training for the 4 1/2 -mile Chesapeake Bay swim. Not mandatory, but highly encouraged.

-- Adele Levine, Wheaton


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