21st Century Water Ballerinas
By Leah Maclean
Getting 85 performers on the stage is no mean feat and I’m sure few have managed the challenge. Putting them in a swimming pool, on the other hand, is a completely different story. I’m talking about synchronised swimming, or rather, water ballet.
Nearly ten years ago the Wet Hot Beauties (WHBs) creators, Judy Dale and Pip Hall, found themselves in an eager position to add a little something extra to their lives, they wanted to try something new. After throwing around some ideas they happened upon synchronised swimming. Pip and Judy promptly made contact with a synchronised swimming club in Auckland but at 35, were told they were too old to join. Annoyed but not disheartened, getting together with friends they decided to do it themselves. Their first attempt at synchronised swimming proved to be incredibly taxing in a deep swimming pool, so they moved onto the kids’ pool; then grew water ballet and the Wet Hot Beauties were born.
“We were originally called the Wet Hot B*tches!” explains Pip, an inspiration drawn from The Real Hot B*tches, a Wellington based 80s dance tribute group. “We loved their idea of getting together with friends to dance but we wanted to do it in the water.” The Beauties pay homage to the dazzling aquacades of 1930s and 1940s cinema with their cloche swimming caps, matching swimsuits, bright smiles and kaleidoscopic formations. The swimming troupe have filled a gap that New Zealand didn’t realise it had.
“For someone who was told at 21 they’d never be able to walk properly or participate in sports again, being a part of the WHBs means so much to me,” says Wet Hot Beauty, Dana. “It is just so amazing to be a part of something that will not only incorporate my physical challenges, but build me up both emotionally and spiritually.” Judy and Pip pride themselves in being an all-inclusive dance troupe, even including those who can’t swim. Pip lists off the scope of people who join the company and it is a surprising eclectic list indeed. From new mums, to lawyers, students, zoo keepers, meteorologists, trend forecasters, and one year someone that was legally blind. Men are not excluded from the equation either; Pip says as long as you can count to eight, you can be in the troupe.
This Auckland Fringe Festival, from the 21-26 February, the Beauties will be taking over the Parnell Baths with their third full-length water ballet Sea Change. The 70 minute work, which took 6 months of rehearsal, is an exploration of the roles women play in society today. “The work challenges the demands and expectations placed on modern woman,” explains Pip, “as well as celebrates their resilience, courage and power.” Set to a soundtrack of legendary Divas, Sea Change will inspire, entertain and empower audiences at the poolside. It is not easy to tour 85 water ballerinas around the country but Pip and Judy allude to spreading their dynamic and empowering water movement around New Zealand in other ways. They are currently in the process of developing a touring model where the three key creatives (Pip, Judy and Lara Liew) would tour to other New Zealand locations and teach people in their hometowns the art of being a Wet Hot Beauty.
Pip describes water ballet as a transformative experience and a real confidence boost for a lot of people. In a world where body confidence is a struggle the WHBs is a totem of positivity and acceptance. “There is great safety numbers, especially all dressed the same. It’s very equalising to be with a large group of women and see how wonderfully different we all are,” says Pip. “I also think our values of inclusivity and acceptance brush off on the performers and through the journey people come to accept and love their own bodies which is pretty profound to witness.”
The Wet Hot Beauties are performing Sea Change at the Parnell Baths as part of the Auckland Fringe Festival 21-26 February.
Want to become part of the underwater movement? Visit www.whbs.co.nz for more information.