There's a historic bar in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that offers a unique swim show for bar goers to enjoy. The Wreck Bar, located in the lobby of the B Ocean Hotel, has been around since the 1950's. The bar sits right below the pool so figure swimmers can interact with the people.
Some of the rat packers showed up. Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe certainly were famously known for attending.
During the 50's and 60's a who's-who of Hollywood frequented the hotel to catch the sexy swimmers dancing in front of the portholes.
Marina Anderson, or MeduSirena as she's known in the performance industry, is the lead figure swimmer at the Wreck Bar's famous swim show.
She explained some of the history behind the hotel and the swim attraction. "A lot of the who's-who in television and film would come in and look through those same very portholes," she said. "That golden age of tourism here in Fort Lauderdale is what produced this really amazing icon."
Swim shows and other entertainment shows were common during that time, but nowadays very few remain. That just adds to the allure of staying at the B Ocean Hotel. The owner wanted to feature entertainment right in the hotel so the guests didn't have to go elsewhere.
The Wreck Bar became an icon in Fort Lauderdale.
The swim show trend was popular in the late 50's and early 60's, but like most trends, it faded away. Thankfully, the Wreck Bar kept the abandoned ship theme and continues to offer the interactive aqua show.
"These few little gems still exist and we are trying to keep them polished so people can experience them and see what it was like during that time," Anderson told us.
Anderson has been performing for 30 years. She started free diving at age 3, taking after her father, also a free diver. Her mother loved Esther Williams films, so naturally she gravitated to dance and performance.
When she got older she added Middle Eastern dance and Polynesian dance to her repertoire. So figure swimming was a perfect mix of all of her passions. Ten years ago she started performing her swim show at the Wreck Bar.
After seeing the show, other girls started to express interest in joining her behind the glass and in the pool. "When I first started figure swimming I started meeting a lot of people that took a great interest in what I was doing," she said. "They wanted to learn as well and that enthusiasm was pretty contagious."
I decided that rather than call them mermaids, to call them 'Aquaticats' because it has a retro feel.
Anderson assembled a team of talented girls and trained them to perform. "I wanted to make sure that they felt comfortable in their own skin when they perform," she said. "Certainly we have a method of movement but they can still retain their own personality. So when you see them in the portholes you can connect to which ever one you prefer."
Currently there are 13 members of the Aquaticats.
Four perform during the course of one show.
To be a part of the Aquaticats you have to master the art of looking comfortable under water while you hold your breath. Anderson said that "breath-hold face" is totally inexcusable.
If ... you make a breath-hold face -- no, you can't get past that. So part of the training is to appear so equanimous no matter what.
Part of Anderson's audition process is evaluating a figure swimmer's ability to appear happy, smiley and sexy at all times. The goal is for the audience to forget the girls aren't breathing. "It's all breath-hold training. It's all levels of apnea."
"I wanted to emphasize it being smooth, dancing movements," she said. "We are actually dancing underwater. The underwater environment is just providing us with a liquid stage rather than a conventional underwater trekking show."
The breath training is a big part of the figure swimmer's training. However, Anderson never times the girls. Her philosophy is that once the stopwatch comes out, the brain takes over and the girls aren't able to last as long.
The training's extensive. The confidence is what enables them to stay longer and because of that I never time it.
Anderson's take on breath training is that the girls should focus more on the art and movement, rather than the pressures of timing.
She's never even timed herself. Timing it would breed competition. She's more focused on the artistic aspects.
The breathing is just one aspect of the training. She also teaches her girls tips and tricks on how to keep their eyes open in the chlorinated water. Then there's hair and makeup -- all aspects of the performance that she's mastered over the 30 years in the industry.
Thankfully, waterproof makeup is fairly efficient. The hair is another story. "It's taken me 30 years to figure out how to keep makeup on. Also how to use hair as an implement so that when we swim it isn't in our faces. We swim around it," she said.
Anderson admitted that all the hard work is worth it in the end because she continues to have fun. "I just like swimming. I just want to swim," she said. "To make this possible, however, it takes a lot of work. So the swimming is the great reward."
The Aquaticats perform every Friday and Saturday nights at the Wreck Bar. There are currently two showtimes. The 6:30 swim show is more PG, mermaid themed, and the 9:30 show is burlesque themed, with a naughtier feel.