Synchronized swimmers scream at each other underwater, and they are sick and tired of hearing about Esther Williams. People don't realize these things about synchronized swimming.
In fact, a lot of people who don't know anything about synchronized swimming, and even some who do, feel that the sport could stand an injection of something. A man who ran into synchronized swimming in college one evening right after biology lab says that it inspired in him a great ambition. He had what amounted to a vision: some night when the lights went out for a climactic floating-torches-in-the-darkness number he would slip down to the side of the university pool and spike it so heavily with Gentian Violet, a dye used to stain slides in biology labs, that when the lights came back on, the girls would resurface purple.
But that would be gilding the lily. To be sure, such an idea may have occurred to some synchronized swimming team in earnest, and who knows that it won't be tried this weekend in the AAU indoor nationals. A sport that has seen, in recent years, the Shamrock Hilton Corkettes perform The Highest—a Religious Pilgrimage and the Newark Nereids in Thieves of Alli Baba—not to mention Sydonia Fisher and Linda Howerton of the Hayward (Calif.) Recreation Flying Fins in Roumania, Roumania—Soul of the People—is accustomed to bold effects. But traditionalists in the sport would frown on purple girls, and with reason. Anyone who has really looked into what is referred to as "the synchro picture"—certainly anyone who has become acquainted with Mrs. Margaret Swan and the San Antonio (Texas) Cygnets—knows that synchronized swimming has color enough already.
The Cygnets are 49 girls in all, ranging in age from 5 to 17. The Cygnets' A team—eight girls aged 13 to 17—is the third best in the country, behind the Santa Clara Aquamaids and the San Francisco Merionettes. Mrs. Swan, the team's coach and owner, has derived its name from her own (the Merionettes named themselves for their coach, Mrs. Marion Kane, changing a letter to work in the mermaid angle). There are other noteworthy team names: the Buffalo Swimkins, the Kansas City Sea Sprites, the Minneapolis Fairview Synkers, the Paso Robles Roblettes, the Oakland Moose (Club) Naiads, the Walnut Creek Aquanuts, the Town of Tonawanda (N.Y.) Aquettes, the (Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio) Waterworks Flippers and the Garland (Texas) Park and Recreation Department Garlettes.
Mrs. Swan lives in—and trains the Cygnets in a yellow-and-white-striped plastic bubble adjacent to—a haunted house. The ghost in this house has a penchant for tucking in beds. Jo Clare Oliverio, 14, who is in her ninth year under Mrs. Swan, once spent the night in this house with another Cygnet and no one else. "We got up in the morning and left the bed all yuck," she recalls, "and went into the kitchen and fixed ourselves breakfast. When we went back we looked at the bed. It was all made up." Mrs. Swan has psychic friends who tell her that when they enter the house they "think 'strangled.' They have a sense of someone being strangled in this house."
But that is a side matter; synchronized swimming is eerie in its own right. Its practitioners can walk on subsurface water. That is, while holding their arms entirely out of the water and upraised in a series of graceful attitudes, they appear for all the world to be walking smoothly across the bottom of the pool through water that comes up only to their rib cages, when in fact they are suspended in water 10 feet deep. They are keeping themselves unbobbingly afloat and processional, with several feet of water between their feet and the bottom, by means of a feverish activity from the knees down known as "the eggbeater kick." Can Don Schollander do that? Can Bear Bryant?
The eggbeater kick, which is like the goalie's kick in water polo, has in recent years played a larger and larger role in synchronized swimming. Before it gained prominence among other techniques of defying gravity and water pressure, the sport had tended to resemble, in the words of one coach, "ballet with the curtain halfway down" because the head, arms and upper body were so often underwater, busily keeping the legs on display. What ballet was visible was also upside down. Now the upper body is big in every routine. Mrs. Swan's swimmers can eggbeater kick themselves so high that they are out of the water from the waist up. It may not be long before some soloist does Botticelli's Venus—unfortunately with a suit and presumably without a shell—with only the toes doing any treading, and everything else acting out the number Hey Venus, Goddess of Love That You Are or rather something classical with the same theme.
None of which is to take anything away from the other fundamentals of synchronized swimming. From the basic ballet leg (which is the extending of one leg, poised as though for toe dancing, up in the air while the swimmer glides along on her back) to the open spin 180-degree back pike somersault gaviata, there are 114 officially recognized stunts, each graded according to its level of difficulty. In AAU competition a solo, duet or team number must include five of these standard stunts, plus any number of hybrid or improvised stunts (a dolpholina, for instance, is a cross between a dolphin and a catalina, and a swordalina is a cross between a sword-fish and a catalina, but these are official stunts; hybrids are even richer syntheses). "We have a film of us in last year's nationals," says Cygnet Jeanie Hayden. "We run it backward, and if we see anything cute, we use it for a hybrid." All of these movements must not only be performed with great poise and body control, as much below as above the water, but also be woven into a composition and synchronized with the accompanying music, which is generally semiclassical, background-type or classical. Asked whether rock music has ever been used, Cygnet Margo Hernandez, 13, says, "No, but one team used the Mickey Mouse Club song." Mrs. Swan has gone so modern as to work in a little Erik Satie. Points are awarded by judges (as many as 18 at once) to each stunt and to the routine as a whole, in such finely computed totals as 112.4875.
In the course of a competitive number, a team or an individual will range far and wide. Mrs. Swan likes a team number to cover the length of a 25-yard pool three or four times in five minutes, so good form and speed in the basic swimming strokes are required. But each stunt must be performed in a strict compass comparable to that of gymnastics, only without a bar to swing from. The technique that gives the swimmer controlled lift, and a sort of purchase on the stunt's ideal pattern in the water, is an impressively efficient, hard-to-define use of the hands and arms known as sculling.
Sculling is differentiated from paddling or finning, which is what most people, not to mention fish, do when treading water or swimming. Paddling is "a direct push by the palm along the line of propulsion," according to an article on the subject of sculling by an early expert named George Gordon Hyde. "Every drive stroke must be followed by a recovery stroke in the opposite direction...," he wrote. "[Paddling's] power is therefore necessarily intermittent.... When rapidly performed it is sporadic and jerky in appearance."
And when you are doing a shark circle, or an eight-girl float or a 360-degree spinning heron or even something so simple and functional as an oyster—especially when it is all part of Clung Ming the Coming of Spring or The Tragedy of Donner Pass or Paris in Pink or Maiden of Hiroshima or Aceentchu-ate the Positive or Goya's Famous Duchess or The Hundred Gates of Thebes or Saturday Matinee in Slipt Disc, Montana or Impressions of Imperial Russia or Pride of the Piranhas (Devil Cannibals of All Fish)—you can't afford to be sporadic and jerky. So you scull. "Sculling," wrote Hyde, "employs the same basic principle as the airplane propeller, whose blade moves crosswise to the direction of travel and which gets its driving power from the angle of the blade.... However, nature did not give us rotary joints like the propeller; so we must scull by a series of hand sweeps back and forth across the direction of push, changing the palm angle at the beginning of each sweep so that the push will always be in the same direction. The resulting hand motion is very similar to that of the blade of a windshield wiper." Leave it that sculling is a wondrous unobtrusive wigwag motion of the hands and forearms, the pitch and vectors of which the swimmer can adjust with great subtlety according to her position and course in the water and which enables the rest of the body to do everything a ballerina could do if she could hang in the water like a trout.
Or it might be better to say a gymnast or a diver instead of a ballerina. The above-mentioned treatise by Mr. Hyde is contained in a book entitled Aquatic Art, but that is a term now shunned by synchronized swimming people. "It takes synchro out of competition," says Mrs. Swan, "and puts it into an arty context. Also we despise the term water ballet. That denotes something just done with a musical background. It doesn't denote the fact that these girls are real athletes." And synchronized swimming is trying to get into the Olympics.
Synchronized swimmers have put on demonstrations before Olympic audiences. The sport has been recognized by the AAU since 1946 (originally as a men's sport as well) and was first included in the Pan-American Games in 1955. But so far it has been shut out of Olympic competition. Synchronized swimmers think that if gymnasts, divers and figure skaters have gained admittance, so should they. If they do, they will have triumphed over their noncompetitive origins—notably in the aquatic extravaganzas promoted by Billy Rose in the '30s. "In the Indoor Championships," writes a correspondent to Synchro Info, a monthly publication devoted to the synchro picture, "there were some numbers which could have fitted well into Billy Rose's Aquacade or Sam Snyder's Water Follies, where a considerable amount of the ballet is done while walking or standing on the bottom of the pool.... Shall we in the United States set ourselves back 15 years by incorporating aquatic vaudeville into what is supposedly a competitive sport? If so, we can, I am sure, forget about acceptance in the Olympics and drain the water."
Margaret Swan is not about to drain the water or even to let the air out of her yellow-and-white bubble until the weather gets warmer, and her team's primary goal is competitive—to break the hold on first and second place in the AAUs held for years by California teams. But she is a showwoman. Not only has she developed or overseen such vivid competitive numbers as the duet Blitzkrieg!!—1939, in which, in 1968, Cygnets Angie Taylor and Betsy Hart formed a floating swastika with their bodies, but she keeps the club afloat financially by augmenting its repertoire with entertainments. These are mammoth production numbers and lively popular-music and comedy routines to be performed for $100 a show (or occasionally for free as a community service) at military bases, country clubs, state park openings and conventions. For such appearances the Cygnets are currently preparing what Mrs. Swan describes as "a Gay '90s, 'don't tie me to the railroad, little Nell' affair called Laughing Raymond. Raymond is the villain." (Raymond is also a name that will recur later in this story in a supernatural context.) "Audiences would really rather see a lot of legs on top of the water than the most intricate thrusting movements," says Mrs. Swan, and the girls enjoy a chance to throw in a little poolside cancan before jumping in, or swimming to Herb Alpert or Broadway tunes instead of the heavy classical stuff favored by AAU judges. Then, too, there are higher-toned exhibitions. The Cygnets have been invited to perform with the Dallas Civic Ballet, and in May 1969 they did a show in the San Antonio River, between an amphitheater on one bank and a stage on the other, from which the San Antonio Symphony played in accompaniment. "We had some special problems with that show," says Mrs. Swan. "Like dead rats floating by and beer cans. And riverboats coming around the corner during practice. Girls who just held torches and didn't have to show their feet got in with tennis shoes on so they wouldn't get cut." "There was this real mushy stuff on the bottom," says Cygnet Kathy Jansen, "and you'd go down to your knee in it. Then you'd go back up, put up a ballet leg and mud would go streaming down."
That is not the kind of thing that makes synchronized swimmers scream underwater. The term for such vocalization is "blub." A blub is a signal used in team numbers, rather than a cry of despair. But if you ask Mrs. Swan or a given Cygnet what a blub is exactly, she will say, "Oh, just a scream underwater." For each pivotal moment in a routine, such as the time for a spin to begin, one girl is appointed the blubber. Everyone starts off together on her blub. "It's just 'bwaaah,' says Margo Hernandez. "It depends on who it is. Gaye Lynn's got a high, high-pitched one." "Once in Sacramento," says Mrs. Swan, "they suddenly took off faster than I'd ever seen them. The blubber had said, underwater, 'Swim like hell!' "
Apparently such cries are perfectly audible underwater, but not a peep rises above the surface. It wouldn't do for The Miracle of the Lame Prince or Belles of Captain Jimmie's Showboat or The Colosseum—Spectacle of Terrors at the Circus Maximus or Fantasy of the Red-birds or even The Soul of Poland or Portrait of Satan to be punctuated with "bwaaah" or "swim like hell." It wouldn't do, either, for there to be much roiling of the surface; a swimmer on her back sculling often produces small vortices, but anything bordering on a splash is bad form. Grimacing is also frowned upon. "You have to look nice when you breathe," says Jeanie Hayden. "When you're dying underwater, you can't come up and look like it. You have to look pleasant. I get panicky sometimes when we're holding our breath for a long time. You're under there and your blood is pounding, but you know you have to stay under. Sometimes you can't see anybody, and it all closes in on you. Sometimes in a meet you wonder what's going to happen if you're upside down underwater and your noseclip comes off. Sometimes your nose gets oily and....
"Also you can get turned around. Once I did a stunt and ended up on top of the water instead of under. We did last year's team number at a local meet in a pool with no lights, and the pool was on a slant and there were no lines on the bottom. You know you're out of formation, but you don't know where. You can't talk and say, 'Scoot over that way, y'all?' You go into a spin and everybody's swimming into each other. That's when it gets embarrassing."
The Cygnets embarrass themselves rarely, but they suffer year-round. They work out three hours every day of the summer, every day during Christmas holidays and at least three times a week the rest of the year. A workout may entail as many as 3,000 yards of sculling and swimming back and forth. They get very little recognition. When they tell people they are synchronized swimmers, people always bring up Esther Williams—which isn't too hip because in her movies Esther Williams tended to do very simple tricks, often propelling herself by pushing up from the bottom which is considered cheating today. " 'Oh, Esther Williams the Second,' people say," sighs Kathy Jansen, "and you want to say 'uhhhhh,' because here she did this dolphin."
"Synchro is terribly demanding," says Mrs. Swan. "Girls never go steady. We've had some very popular girls, and they date—Betsy Hart is Miss San Antonio. We've had cheerleaders, student council presidents and exceptional students. But you seldom call the home of a synchronized swimmer and find the line busy for hours.
"We push these kids to the limits of their abilities. We demand outrageous things of them. If I have a show and I can't do without a girl, and she's sick, she just has to swim, that's all. The first year we had our own pool we swam outdoors without the bubble until February—there were icicles on the fence. That was the year we had the fewest colds."
"She drives you," says Jeanie Hayden. "She's two different people. When we make trips, she cracks jokes and is fun to be with, but in the pool you don't cross her."
"When we got to the nationals," says Kathy Jansen, "everybody else called their coach by her first name; but we just.... 'Margaret?' "Margaret'—we just couldn't. Here we were saying, 'Mrs. Swan,' 'Mrs. Swan.' We didn't mean it to sound formal or anything, but.... 'Margaret' just sounded so.... So we called her 'Duck.' "
So it is that Mrs. Swan, a petite 51-year-old grandmother of five and an assistant professor of physical education at San Antonio Junior College, has had made up for herself a sweatshirt that says MOTHER DUCK which she wears to workouts.
"When I was growing up in Texas," she says, "we didn't have chlorinated pools. I was always kept out of the water, or when I did get in, I had to keep my head out. I had had measles, which caused some hearing loss. Still, I loved swimming.
"In 1950, in Houston, at the Shamrock Hilton I saw Joy Cushman and Ernestine Mignone, two of the earliest synchronized swimmers, do a duet. I went back home to Dallas and did some experimenting with it myself. When I moved to San Antonio in 1955 a woman had just started a class in the YWCA here. I became their coach and called them the Silver Fins. When I quit the Silver Fins because of parental interference, I started Cygnets. It's probably the only synchro club that's owned and directed by an individual instead of being run by a parents' governing board or a recreation center. It makes for a benevolent dictatorship, I guess you'd call it."
The Cygnets were organized in 1963, and by 1966 they had won the junior national championship (an indication of the agreeable casualness of the Swan ménage is that someone has placed a rubber nose on the peaked hands of a winged gilt bathing girl who is poised atop the '66 trophy in Mrs. Swan's crowded study). The Cygnets have won a special trophy awarded to distinguished teams outside California every year it has been offered. "I don't know of any girl who, if she dedicates herself, can't be successful in synchro," says Mrs. Swan. "I have had kids who were just blobs of jelly who with application became part of a championship team."
A brochure that Mrs. Swan sends out to parents of prospective Cygnets says, "We believe that we can give your girl a reason for not smoking, drinking or indulging in drugs because we offer her a group that stands for clean living and offers tangible rewards for clean living. We believe in competition and in strenuous physical activity and a consuming measured interest for every girl. Swimming is a wonderful exercise. It is feminine, it builds beautiful bodies, it develops poise and it saves lives. We offer your daughter the experience of sports competition. We can and will take her as far as she is willing and able to go—from beginner to champion—from inside the city limits to halfway around the world...! She will learn to make sacrifices and decisions; to plan her time and to schedule herself. She will have fewer colds (we can prove this statistically) and she will have something special to cling to when she is trying to find herself as a woman."
Mrs. Swan no longer sends these brochures out except on request. Word of mouth is sufficient to keep membership high, despite a considerable rate of attrition as girls decide that they have had enough or their families decide that synchro is too much for them. "Your family has to put up with a bunch," says Jeanie Hayden. "Family vacations and dinner times have to be planned around you." It costs $10 a month dues to be a Cygnet, and each Cygnet family has to agree to sell or buy $5 a month worth of tickets to Cygnet performances. These revenues pay travel and pool expenses; Mrs. Swan doesn't take a salary, but Cygnets pays the mortgage on the pool, which the Swans rent to a neighborhood swim club in non-Cygnet hours. "I've worked with the YWCA," says Mss. Swan, "and I'm sympathetic with girls who want to do these things and don't have the money. So we've given some scholarships to Cygnets. But these girls haven't all appreciated it." She sighs and shakes her head. "Finally, last year, I said I don't care if I never see another poor girl."
Most Cygnets, then, come from upper-middle-class families, but the club is fairly diverse ethnically. There are Anglo-Saxon, Spanish, Jewish and Italian names among the ranks, and there have been two black Cygnets. "One black girl, who dropped out, would have been on the A team this year," says Mrs. Swan, "and she would've been the first black girl ever in the national championships."
Making friends is one of the "tangible rewards" referred to in the Cygnets' brochure. "When I started at 5," says Jo Clare, "I was the only girl that little. I'd just sit down at the shallow end of the pool and just freeze." "But then you go on and get to know a lot of people," says Jeanie, "and you don't want to quit. And when I stop synchro for a while, it makes me feel like I'm getting fat."
"You feel like you're not doing anything," adds Kathy.
"When we're swimming we can eat anything we want and not get fat," says Jeanie. "Most of our friends understand now, so when we're shoveling it in they don't say anything."
"Like they don't say, 'Pig!' " says Jo Clare.
"And trips," says Jeanie. "You say, 'I'll be going to California in a few weeks,' to other kids in school, and they say, 'Really?'
"Synchro takes a lot of discipline. But you get out there with a stunt you hate, and somebody works on it with you, over and over for hours, uhhhhhh—and then it starts getting better. That makes you feel good."
Jeanie adds that national competition confirms that feeling. "You know you're good, but you don't know how good," she says. "When we got third in the nationals last year it was so neat."
Everything considered, synchronized swimming can still be a grind. Santa Clara's Kim Welshons, now retired after winning or helping to win 10 senior national solo (The Taming of the Shrew, etc.), duet (Spell of the Gypsy, etc.) and team (Rosh Chodesh—Israelean Festival. etc.) championships and being nominated for the 1970 Sullivan Award, told an interviewer last summer, "Sometimes, with the work and the performances, I feel like a thing instead of a person. I get on a plane, I get where I'm going and I go into the water. In many cases the hotel and the road are all I see."
The career of a good AAU synchronized swimmer usually stretches from age 11 to age 17. After that there is college competition, which is not so stiff, but very rarely does a girl go on to swim in a professional water-ballet troupe, either in residence at a place like Cypress Gardens or Marineland (where some years ago the Vero Beach Dolphinettes performed with trained porpoises) or traveling around with a portable pool. "Once these girls get through competition, they've had it," says Mrs. Swan with a gleam in her eye. "They're sick of it."
"What we want this year in the nationals is a standing ovation," says Jeanie Hayden. "The Merionettes got one with a patriotic routine in Oklahoma three years ago. They had a flag in it—they formed a flag and rotated from side to side like a flag waving. We considered a patriotic number this year, but there have been so many of them done recently. The judges get sick of The Battle Hymn of the Republic over and over. So we decided on a religious one. The indoor finals will be on the day before Easter. We're going to do Resurrection. When you go out there and do something like that it really makes you feel good."
"Supposedly, your theme doesn't count in the scoring," says Mrs. Swan. This principle would appear to be borne out by a study of past national results—in the 1968 outdoor solo competition Sherrill Gonterman of Shaw Park, St. Louis, with Jazz-A-Ma-Dazz, finished one point ahead of Kay Ruenzel of the Berea (Ohio) Swim Club Aquateens, with Freedom from Behind the Iron Curtain, and Sharon Lawson of the Merionettes placed far above either of them with Powers from Beelzebub. Another index to the austerity of the judging is this guideline from a 1968 seminar led by Dawn P. Bean of Santa Ana, Calif.:
WHAT WE DON'T JUDGE
Where does it say "smile"?
Her costume is beautiful, so suitable, etc.
She has so much "showmanship."
Her music is terrible.
I don't believe Spaniards dance like that.
"But when you're pushing for the top," says Mrs. Swan, "you want something spine-tingling."
It took her from Nov. 1 until just before Christmas to put together the five minutes of music for Resurrection. This music comprises seven different selections from records as various as Handel's Greatest Hits and The Hallelujah Album by Carmen Dragon, which includes passages from the soundtrack of The Robe. A single cymbal clash is picked up from one record—"on that they do a tuck and roll and go under like crazy"—and then there is a snatch of the Hallelujah Chorus, something from Respighi's St. Michael the Archangel and so on. "We wanted to use the traditional Palms you hear on Palm Sunday, so we're using that from The Robe," says Mrs. Swan. "Then we carry out the whole idea of Gethsemane, and carry through the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and then the Hallelujah Chorus." It is spine-tingling.
More spine-tingling than the Swans' ghost stories, in fact. Though they aren't bad. "I was a skeptic," says Mrs. Swan's husband George, who runs a rent-all agency in San Antonio, "until I moved into this house." That is the 96-year-old, single-story home of Alphonse W. Perrin, who built it himself in 1875 after moving down from New York in search of a better climate. It is made of quarried limestone, the same material used to build the Alamo, which is also located in San Antonio, and it is hard to describe architecturally, especially now that the Swans have added to it here and there. It has high ceilings, knee-high doorknobs and several nice heavy pieces of old Spanish furniture. "We hear the windows rattling at night when there is no wind," says Mr. Swan. "A contractor who came out to the place before we moved in heard the windows rattling one night when there was no wind and not even any windows. Just the opening was there in the wall."
On another night, before they moved in, the Swans held a séance in a back bedroom. All 12 people in attendance, say the Swans, heard footsteps enter the house, go toward a hall closet and then stop. These steps have been heard a few times since, and they always wind up at the closet. "I'm not the kind of man who is afraid to get up and check on a noise at night," says George Swan, who is heavily built, "but I heard those steps one night when I was here alone, and I got a gun and got in bed and stayed right there."
"We'd heard from our real-estate agent that people had been mistreated here," says Mrs. Swan vaguely. Then there were the psychic friends to whom the house said "strangled"—one of these let the house's spell sink in for a while and declared, says Mrs. Swan, that "there was a Raymond" in the background. "We had found all the old family letters, and there was no Raymond mentioned in any of them. We couldn't figure it out." But then the Swans discovered the old Perrin graveyard on a piece of adjoining property. There was a headstone for Raymond Perrin, dead at the age of 38. Further inquiries revealed that Raymond had been an afflicted child—possibly with brain fever—and "he had to be cared for like a vegetable," says Mrs. Swan.
If there was a strangulation, though, it has not come to light. Nor can the Swans explain the tucking-in phenomena that have occurred in the house. There was what happened to Jo Clare's bed, and then there was the experience of another female guest. "She had to have everything loose over her body," says George. "All the covers had to be very loose. Well, she woke up in the night with everything tucked in solid on all three sides."
Who can explain such things? But on the other hand, why linger over them when the Cygnets are outside in the bubble working out?
There are to be run-throughs of the B-team number, which is to the tunes of a medley of the national anthems of World War I and is entitled In Flanders Fields the Poppies Blow, and then of the big one, Resurrection.
Mrs. Swan says a few words to the B-team over the sound system; one speaker is underwater so that the girls can hear the music while submerged. In fact they tend to submerge while Mrs. Swan addresses them because they can hear her more clearly down there than above the surface, where everything echoes vibrantly around and around the bubble. The smell of chlorine is vaguely in the air. On the inside the bubble's stripes look orange rather than yellow, and the sun shining through them onto the choppy surface colors the water a fluctuating marbled orange and white.
"One of the big problems in this sport," Mrs. Swan says in an aside, as the girls loosen up, "is how to denote the choreography. We write all kinds of strange things down. Like overarm crawl and a pull to the back and a roll to the side.... Do it again," she says to a Cygnet, "and watch your feather."
The sun casts the shadow of a 400-year-old oak tree onto the walls of the bubble, and also the shadows of numbers of younger, or maybe older, scraggly mesquites. The girls are going through individual stunts. They call to mind Hedy Lamarr in Ecstasy, Ophelia afloat and the Lady of the Lake. Here and there through the orange-and-white, oak-and-mesquite-shaded surface there occurs a girl's single pointed foot, slowly ascending, like Excalibur only rounded and fetching.
"Different teams are known for different things," Mrs. Swan is saying. "We are known for our flamingo 360-degree spins. And we are known for the floats we do. In Symbols of British Majesty—Orb and Scepter eight girls, some with their feet together, some with their heads together—girls holding feet with feet—went down underwater, latched together, and made a ball. Then they rolled. It looked like an orb."
The B-team routine is beginning. Now the girls have all submerged, and you know, although you can't hear her, that one of them is screaming. "In a thing we called Ode to the Dawn," adds Mrs. Swan, "they made a shark circle, lying on their sides, and went around once. Then three made a smaller circle in the center, and three piked out and resurfaced with their legs split so the whole thing looked like the sun with rays. In Resurrection we do a Celtic cross."
The B-team is well into its number. Girls are oystering out of a swastika into a flamingo position with Deutschland, Deutschland, √úber Alles building into a crescendo in a yellow-and-white-striped bubble with the shadows of trees, in San Antonio, Texas, and now "a long way...to Tip-per-ra-ry," and the finale is The National Emblem March. Then on into Resurrection with a blub on the drop-under, and there is a period during which the Cygnets are underwater for 27 seconds, while first one shift and then another comes up—projecting only legs out of the water—and executes a hybrid "with a half-spin at the top," as Jeanie Hayden has explained it, "then spin down to where the legs are even, another spin at the ankles and sink."
They sink. They come back up. They form the cross. Says Mrs. Swan: "When a girl is holding another girl's foot in a float, while they're all sculling on their backs, she is taking two fingers and holding onto her neighbor's Achilles' tendon and lifting."
Clash! go the cymbals, the girls go under again, "And He shall reign for...He shall reign for e-ver and e-ever. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!" ringing all around the orange-and-white water through which young girls' heads are sprouting at last, and if a ghost were to come sculling along through the bubble in midair, all blue in the face with a pair of disembodied hands around its neck, it wouldn't add much.
Fittingly adorned with crosses, the Cygnets line up for inspection, then "blub" underwater.
Mrs. Swan's haunted house is famous for windows that rattle on windless days.
The Cygnets perform a Margaret Swan original, a hybrid float she has grandly dubbed the "orb dolphin."