It’s a particularly feverish July Tuesday at the Roosevelt Park Pool in Hampden, where tween and teenage girls are squealing, splashing, treading water, and exchanging jokes.
By 10 a.m., the Fluid Movement Junior Scene—an iteration of the Fluid Movement water ballet company that features youth performers ages 9-14—is warming up before practicing their number for this year’s production, Sinkholes, Sewers, & Streams: A Water Infrastructure Ballet, which kicks off July 29-30 at Riverside Park Pool and continues August 5-6 at Druid Hill Park Pool.
“We’re going to go backstage and take it from the top,” shouts choreographer Jane Shock, in a pink polka-dotted swimsuit, before quizzing the ladies on their ground rules for the water: “Know your skills, know your pizzazz, and know your place.”
In 2013, the Junior Scene emerged as the brainchild of Fluid Movement co-founder Val Perez-Schere, who had a kid who wanted to participate at the time.
“Children are community members like anyone else,” Perez-Schere says, “I wanted them to be a part of the show. My mom, brother, and husband had been in Fluid Movement, so I wanted to keep the dynasty going.”
A decade later, the youth program is as successful as ever. During rehearsal at the Roosevelt Park pool, swimmers practice on the pavement, then plop back into the water for a go at their routine with music. After talking through notes, they’ll do it all again while wearing swim caps that resemble eels, crabs, mallard ducks, and jellyfish with instructor Kelly Quinn behind them in a wig and bullfrog costume. Made by Shock’s sister, Regina Shock, the headpieces are relics of past Fluid Movement shows (like 2015’s iconic Goldblum: The Water Ballet.) This year, they double as the “Charismatic Water Creatures” of our Inner Harbor.
The upcoming water infrastructure-themed show explores environmental threats to Baltimore’s great waterways, including fatbergs. (The rock-like hunks comprised from oils, fats, and non-flushable items that clog up sewer systems were recently the subject of a Fluid Movement PSA in partnership with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.)
With 100-plus swimmers, eight actors, and songs by Charm City’s own Dan Meyer Choir, this year’s production—a lot like The Magic School Bus, with a teacher named Miss Drizzle touring swimmers through the city’s water infrastructure systems—acknowledges the “father of clean water” Abel Wolman, whose research on local water chlorination had a global reach.
“This is the final scene,” Shock says as the girls get into position. With storylines throughout the performance showing the harm of floating trash and dead fish in the water, “this [scene] is supposed to be a utopian future, where the harbor is clean enough, and the creatures are all happy.”
For the Junior Scene instructors, it’s a fitting note to end on, as its reflective of the community that Fluid Movement forged 24 years ago.
“Five of our children in this scene also have mothers or grandmothers who are in the show,” says Quinn, a member since 2014, who prides the company on making space for intergenerational connections. “Promoting the idea of a love of community, art, and your body is a really powerful thing for women to pass on. Some of these girls will go on to be directors for our scenes in the coming years, and they’ll eventually grow into being some of our adult swimmers. It’s beautiful to see.”
Among the youth performers following in the footsteps of their elders is 13-year-old Camryn Ford, a first-time Fluid Mover playing a jellyfish who will be performing alongside her grandmother in the show. “The teachers are really nice,” Ford says, “and the kids are really fun to be around.”
A member since 2000, Shock has witnessed many younger Fluid Movement swimmers graduate into the adult company and says “it never gets old.” Quinn agrees, saying she sees it as an opportunity for the youth to flex creativity and leadership skills.
“Some children grew up with us,” Quinn says. “There are even children who were in utero [in previous productions] who are now swimming in the show we’ll have this weekend. That’s a great example of how special Fluid Movement is, that family sees us as a place to go.”