FORGET the toe shoes and tutus, this week at two area swimming pools ballet takes a dive -- literally. Tonight at the PG Pool in Mount Rainier, "Miranda, a Mermaid's Tale" makes waves with 45 performers -- singers, dancers, musicians, actors and swimmers -- at poolside and in the water. The budding Esther Williamses are mostly neighborhood teenagers on local swim teams in and around Mount Rainier with little previous experience in synchronized swimming.

"We do use fins, which is not what most synchronized swimmers do," says director Brooke Kidd, co-founder of Joe's Movement Emporium , which is mounting the production. "We have done a lot of exploring about what can happen in the water. I like the contrast of what happens in and out of the water, and I've got a small platform just below the waterline that makes it appear as if the swimmers are walking on water."

"Miranda," the story of the young mermaid who overcomes a sea witch, includes an original script by Mary Watters and musical accompaniment by harpist Annetta Harrod-Williams. From show tunes to gospel to Caribbean and Brazilian numbers, the songs provide a musical backdrop for some land-hugging sequences performed by neighborhood youngsters. Local artists designed costumes and sets, including an imposing fiberglass rock that stands in the center of the pool.

Silliness reigns in Fluid Movement's water ballet, "Cirque de L'Amour," a quirky combination of circus arts, synchronized swimming, storytelling and audience participation that opens tonight at Patterson Park Pool in southeast Baltimore. Fluid Movement, a Charm City-based community arts group whose credits include "Frankenstein on Wheels," which featured roller-skaters, and "Carmen, the Hot Dog Opera," which used tofu wieners as puppets, pulls out all the stops for its third annual water ballet.

Fluid Movement choreographer Melissa Martens, a museum curator by day, doesn't even like the water -- "I think my parents forced me to take swimming lessons for too long when I was little" -- but says it hasn't stopped her from collaborating on the extravaganza, which includes a 60-year-old Cupid sporting a pompom covered Speedo, a dance of the pregnant moms and costumed dogs.

With more than 30 people performing in the water and on land, Martens fashioned a variety of segments that showcase the circus theme. She's put in a touch of vaudeville, some acrobatics, European-style circus numbers and some good old-fashioned goofiness. Fluid Movement founder Keri Burneston's script, for example, demands that the audience decide the fate of heroine Frenchie, who must choose between macho Guy de Lion or lovable Froggy the Doggy Trainer.

"We have hardcore swimmers with a lot of experience," Martens explains. "They will be playing the clowns. We have some kids on land and in the water. Everyone who wants to can have a chance," she says of this homegrown, all-volunteer effort.

"It's really a wonderful process," she enthuses, even the four months of preparation and waterlogged rehearsals three to four times a week. "It's about how neighborhoods and neighbors can get involved to create art in a community environment. I want people who may have never participated in artmaking to feel comfortable and to see their work have an imprint in their own community."

MIRANDA, A MERMAID'S TALE -- Friday and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at the PG Pool, 34th and Buchanan streets, Mount Rainier. 301/277-8896.

CIRQUE DE L'AMOUR -- Friday through Sunday and Aug. 3-5 at 7 p.m. Patterson Park Pool, Baltimore, just off Linwood Avenue, between Eastern Avenue and Baltimore Street. 410/342-0600. Tom Braun as Cupid in Fluid Movement's "Cirque de L'Amour."