Water ballet, now known as synchronized swimming, is a water sport primarily practiced by women. Annette Kellerman, who suffered from rickets, started the sport in 1905 and brought it to the United States in 1906. Kay Curtis founded a water ballet club at the University of Chicago in 1923, and in 1934, Curtis brought water ballet to the Chicago World’s Fair. In 1984, synchronized swimming became an official Olympic competition. Routines are choreographed to music and performed as a duet or team, with two judging panels evaluating the routines based on technical merit and artistic impression.
Water ballet is the original term for synchronized swimming, a water sport primarily practiced by women. Water ballet is categorized by choreographed movements in the water that must be performed with ease and grace. The sport requires flexibility, agility, precise timing and the ability to control breathing underwater.
Ballet on Water began with Annette Kellerman, a woman from Sydney, Australia. She was born on July 6, 1886 and from an early age she suffered from rickets, a disease that weakens and softens the bones. To combat the debilitating disease, Kellerman spent most of her childhood swimming. Her daily swims gained strength in her legs and catapulted her into a career that brought her fame.
In 1905, Kellerman performed at the London Hippodrome – a huge performance hall in England. There she performed in a huge glass tank, swimming, diving and dancing underwater. She brought her act of hers to the United States in 1906, enjoying further success. Inspired by Kellerman, a woman named Kay Curtis founded a water ballet club at the University of Chicago in 1923.
In 1934, Curtis brought water ballet to the Chicago World’s Fair. Soon after, Chicago area schools began forming their own synchronized swimming groups. After World War II, water ballet continued to grow in popularity around the world. In the 1940s, Olympic swimmer and movie star Esther Williams cemented the popularity of water ballet by performing at the San Francisco Aquacade World’s Fair and in several MGM films.
Eventually, the sport came to be known as synchronized or synchronized swimming. In 1984, synchronized swimming became an official Olympic competition. The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics marked the first time medals were awarded to athletes who excelled in the sport.
In synchronized swimming, athletes must perform difficult movements in the water while making them appear simple to perform. Routines are choreographed to music and performed as a duet or team. In a technical routine, swimmers must perform pre-arranged movements in a specific order to pre-determined music. A free routine is choreographed by the swimmers, with no restrictions on choreography or music. Free routines allow the synchronized swim team to reveal both their technique and artistry.
Typical routines include spectacular lifts and throws, each team member moving in unison as they swim through the water. Two judging panels evaluate the routines, providing scores based on technical merit and artistic impression. A team can earn up to ten points for a routine.