“I’m a Water Dancer, Mom!”: On Bodies and Baltimore’s Premier Water Ballet

By: UMBC Magazine Editor
Sep 25, 2017

(Two people posing with facepaint)

A reflection on body acceptance and positivity while being a part of a water ballet by Special Projects Coordinator, Amelia Meman ’15, gender and women’s studies.  Above photo: Amelia and friend Susie Hinz ’14, courtesy of the author.

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I tend to not write about my body much. It’s not that I don’t think about it. I’m preoccupied by it, actually. Rather, it’s that I don’t want to continue to bring attention to something that seems, to me, like a glaring error that folks can already pick apart.

It’s not just that I’m sort of fat. I am fat, and that’s something I’ve been able to tease out through years of BMI charts. There’s also everything else: I’m broad shouldered, hairy, weirdly proportioned, and I have a really large tongue. I have weird chubby baby cherub hands and my feet are callused because I use them to climb (read: fall out of) trees.

I could spend many more words on my weirdo body (as I’m sure many others could, too), but this summer I signed up to be in Fluid Movement’s annual water ballet, and now I am actually proud of what my body does. It’s a weird and foreign feeling for me–being proud of my body. After I have somersaulted and tread water for an hour and pin-wheeled and held people’s ankles while floating like perverse otters, I think I’m starting to really love this body.

One of my favorite performances, a water ballet inspired by Jeff Goldblum’s The Fly (1986). Photo retrieved from facebook.com/FluidMovementWB/

See, Fluid Movement’s water ballets are magic. They’ve been going on for almost 20 years now and they’re characterized by unabashed silliness, a heaping ton of glitter, and diverse folks from all over the place coming together in Baltimore’s public pools to dance in water.

I first heard about them through, who else, but my former professor and all-around life hero Dr. Kate Drabinski who had thought of me for their 2014 production of the War of 1812. I wasn’t able to do it, nor did I make it to the show, but I followed their page on Facebook, only to find out that the next year they were doing a water ballet inspired by the life of Jeff Goldblum. I know. They’re amazing. Anyways, my best friend Susie and I went to this show, and we couldn’t keep from crying in awe at how wonderful this whole thing was. We vowed to join the troupe. Now it’s 2017 and we’re starring in the [The Scottish Play] in this summer’s Sharkespeare production.


Poster designed by Justine Jones.

Let me tell you about the phenomenon of being in a water ballet troupe with strangers: it is weird, it is awkward, it is incredible.

We started out doing land rehearsals and really spotting the whole production out. We would meet up at the Clifton Park Mansion where folks brought Jell-O Jigglers and clementines, and we would try our best to remember each other’s names. It felt a lot like marching band camp–we would move to the music, find spots, spin in circles, all that. Everyone was dressed in whatever they had come from work in or they had on some iteration of a “dealing with Baltimore heat” get up. It was all very comfortable and simple, but as we neared pool opening season, I became increasingly anxious.

I knew I would have to eventually strip down to a bathing suit and get in the water, but I still wasn’t all that ready when we finally did. It wasn’t just the bathing suit and all of the flesh it exposed, but that I was not a swimmer. Although I have a piscean affinity for being in water, I wasn’t some sort of avid water sportsperson. I only knew how to freestyle because I was obsessed with Michael Phelps’s arm flap stretch.

I was really afraid that not only would my body not work visually, but that it wouldn’t work physically.

But I think everyone was entering the pool with similar preoccupations. What if my body is too fat or too skinny? What if my butt is exposed? What if I can’t make it through the whole practice? What if I’m the first person to ever drown during a performance?

Getting in the water and futzing around with all of these other people who are just as adorably inelegant but enthusiastic as I am was the turning point. Many of us were new and doing something as simple as laying out was frustrating. But our directors were patient. Other folks who were returning to water ballet guided us through the moves. We kicked at each other and quickly apologized, only to laugh, because water ballet is just a very intimate activity. You trust and appreciate each other quickly, when you have to make a pentagram by spread eagle-ing in formation.


Otters are the original water ballerin(x)s.

The other night at practice was unusually hard. We were in a different pool, I had had a long day. The water was also choppy because a water aerobics battalion had blasted their way through enough EDM and disco to make a club tired. I inhaled quite a bit of water (use a noseclip, kids) and my mind was exhausted. But even after everyone started getting ready to leave, I stayed in the water, egg beatering, sculling, and flipping around. I kicked at the water and propelled up and out, I whipped my arms in circles and somersaulted, I folded my body and sunk slowly down. My body does all of this. It’s capable of learning and exerting force and taking up space and being–of all things–beautiful.

Yes, the visual idiosyncrasies of my body are still here, but so are everybody else’s and I like everybody else’s. I like the dimples of cellulite if you have them. I like that “hip dip,” I like your hair (whether it’s on your head, your chest, your legs, your toes), I like the way our boobs are oppositely asymmetrical. It doesn’t even really matter if I like them–I guess I just appreciate you for you and think you are beautiful.

Our body diversity (although fairly narrow as it is in this instance), our weird little eccentricities, our way of working together and genuinely appreciating each other; it’s all just another thing pushing me to earnestly fall in love with home, whether that’s Baltimore or my own body.

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Amelia Meman ’15, gender and women’s studies, is Special Projects Coordinator for UMBC’s Women’s Center.

Originally posted on the Women’s Center Blog; reprinted with permission.

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