One little girl arrived at her swimming lesson last week, jumped into the water and when she had surfaced said with a huge smile
‘I love swimming because in the water you can MOVE.’
She then executed a series of balletic turns and dives under the water. She is quite a new swimmer and her stamina for long swims is still developing but she is learning the kind of freedom of movement in the water that I want for all my swimmers whatever their age.
I believe that swimming is the closest a non dancer can get to the freedom, grace and elegance of a professional dancer. In the water you can forget about gravity so you can move in way that would take years and years of training to be able to achieve on land.
I never want to give my pupils too much instruction, especially children, because if you let them they will find a natural, fluid way of moving in the water. This can so easily be interrupted if you give them instructions like ‘kick your legs.’ Just as (I imagine) with dance, swimming is often about stillness in the water. You don’t have to move all the time. A good swimmer knows how to glide and flow with the water.
Just as with dancer a swimmer can exist in the moment.
I will never ever be able to feel the magic of dancing like Sergei Polunin in this video but swimming gives me a tiny glimpse into what it must feel like to be him.
Some of my pupils are also very good artists and if I am lucky, from time to time they bring me pieces of their work. This is one of my favourite drawings. It is by Jessica who is six years old. I love the fact that she has captured both of us so well, her swimming and me standing in the water. We both look very happy and not only is the sun shining there is also a beautiful rainbow over the pool.
Rambharos Jha is an artist and writer based in the Mithila region of Bihar, eastern India. He grew up watching women decorate the walls and courtyards of their homes, and through watching and learning began to draw himself. In the last few years he has been working extensively on water bodies, a subject he describes as “one of my most cherished muses”.
He has used the techniques he learned to create ‘Waterlife’, a series of illustrations and writings exploring marine life. The book is screen-printed by local artisans in Chennai using traditional Indian dyes. It is published by independent Indian publishers, Tara Books, and explores marine life.
Photograph from the Dutch illustrated magazine ‘Het Leven’ (bathing issue), 1937.
You used to see a lot of swallow dives, but nowadays you hardly ever do. This is partly because most pools have got rid of their diving boards and many are not deep enough.
It is a shame, but I fear the swallow, or swan dive has had its day. It seemed to coincide with the era of the Lido, of Busby Berkeley swimming extravaganzas, of Esther Williams, Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan) and sweeping art deco architecture.
I am just old enough to have benefitted from the end of the swallow dive era and remember seeing many beautiful dives executed from the high diving board at our local pool. I remember that moment when the diver seems to hang in the air, swooping upwards for a second with arms outstretched before bringing them together over the head and hopefully entering the water with the smallest of splashes. I even on one spectacular occasion saw someone do one of these dives off a bridge into the Thames at Twickenham.
I never did one myself. I didn’t have the courage or the skill. It seemed to be something that men and boys did to show off. I don’t know how they learned, I am quite sure most of them were never taught. They just plucked up their courage and copied one another.
I rarely use buoyancy aids when teaching swimming as they upset the body’s natural balance. Certainly this poor boy is not going to be helped by his water wings and is definitely about to do a belly flop; the rule for diving being, of course, ears between the arms and head down.
One of my little pupils made me this lovely model of me and her in the water. It was so detailed. Look at how she has put in my hands just showing out of the water, and her own arms resting on her float; beautiful.
Photo by Mark Tipple used here with kind permission.
Anyone who has been surfing or just been swimming in big breaking waves, will know the feeling of sometimes misjudging it and being tumbled over and over in the water, not knowing which way is up or down. We tend to close our eyes at these moments, but Mark Tipple kept his open and started taking photographs of surfers under the waves. Here is a link to his website where you can see more of his beautiful photographs.