Forest Hills synchronized swimmers will put on a Disney-themed performance

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The 2012 Summer Olympics are scheduled to open in London July 27, but there will be another summer sport spectacle worth seeing right here in the Pittsburgh area.

The Forest Hills Synchronized Swim Team will perform its annual show at 8:30 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Forest Hills Community Pool.

"Synchronized swimming is a combination of swimming, dance and gymnastics performed to music in the water," said Annmarie Rodrigues, 24, team coach from Forest Hills. "The sport has a lot of specialized movement that includes pinwheels, clams ... and underwater movements such as switches and verticals, where the swimmers' feet are above water and their heads below."

This year's annual show will include 55 swimmers and is themed "The Magical World of Disney," with songs from animated Disney films. The show lasts approximately 1 1/2 hours with an intermission and admission is free.

To raise money for the swim team, donations will be accepted and organizers are holding a 50-50 drawing and a bake sale.

"The show starts with all 55 of the swimmers on the pool deck" performing to "The Mickey Mouse Club March," Ms. Rodrigues said. "Then a series of six routines by seven to 10 swimmers grouped by age will follow."

Ms. Rodrigues and assistant coach Mandi DeVito, 26, of McCandless, choreographed each routine and will perform a duet to a mix of music from "The Bells of Notre Dame" from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "The Mob Song" from "Beauty and the Beast." Groups of older swimmers will perform in smaller ensembles that include a solo, four duets, a trio and a quintet.

"We try to keep each routine to a three minute max," Ms. Rodrigues said.

Swimmer Ariana Chernyshev, 12, of Forest Hills, joined the team six years ago and will be performing with eight other swimmers to "Kiss the Girl" from "The Little Mermaid."

"It's really awesome being on the team," said Ariana, a ballet student at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School. "Dancing and swimming are my favorite things in the world."

Ariana's mother, Toma, said her daughter had several friends on the team and kept begging to let her join.

"Ariana loves ballet and the water, so the synchronized swim team is a perfect fit for her," Mrs. Chernyshev said.

Near the end of the show, the lights will go down, and the two oldest groups of swimmers will perform a candle routine with glow sticks. A finale will follow, in which every swimmer will perform to the "Circle of Life" from "The Lion King," starting outside the pool and finishing in the water.

Practice for the show began in June, and the teams rehearsed three times a week. The week before the show, the coaches scheduled double rehearsals daily.

The minimum age to join the team is 6 and swimmers must be residents of Forest Hills and members of the Forest Hills Community Pool. After the age of 18, a swimmer may elect to become a coach.

"We encourage boys to join and, while we did have some join in the past, none are on our current roster," Ms. Rodrigues said.

Ms. DeVito joined the team in 1993 when she was 7. At the time, she was studying ballet, tap and jazz and her parents thought the swim team would be a nice fit.

"I loved the team from the start," she said. "I find it very challenging and like the uniqueness of the sport, which came easily to me because I was already on the pool's swim team."

As a coach, she said the most important exercise she has her swimmers perform is sculling -- maneuvering their hands and arms to stay afloat in the water.

"To be a quality synchronized swimmer, you have to know how to scull," Ms. DeVito said. "I liken it to lying in a sandbox and trying to pull the sand toward you with your arms and hands."

Swimmer Laina Cross, 17, a senior at the Ellis School in Shadyside, joined the team in 2002. Along with nine teammates, she'll perform a routine choreographed to "Be Prepared" from "The Lion King." She'll also do a solo she personally choreographed to "Reflection" from "Mulan" and a duet to "Zero to Hero" from "Hercules."

"As a team swimmer, I learned a lot about teamwork and commitment," she said. "The sport also tapped into my creativity because I got to choreograph my own pieces."

The Forest Hills Community Pool opened in 1968, and the swim team formed a year later under sister coaches, Janice and Gretchen Gray.

"We were way ahead of the tide in that synchronized swimming didn't become a part of the Olympics until 1984," Ms. Rodrigues said. "Right now, I don't know of any community pools in the region that have a synchronized swim team."

Ms. Rodrigues believes that becoming a good synchronized swimmer takes strength, endurance, flexibility, breath and body control, musicality, grace, creativity and a sense of timing. On the other hand, she feels that everyone can do the sport and said no one is ever cut from the team.

"Synchronized swimming is a fun activity, and we try to make it enjoyable," she said. "You can bet that we'll be watching television to see the synchronized swimming events at the Olympics. To my knowledge, no one from one of our teams has ever gone on to the Olympics, but, hopefully, someone will soon."


Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: First Published July 19, 2012 9:00 AM


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