Austin Reunited: My Summer at the Pool with Forklift Danceworks

from Sarafina Fabris-Green, student at Wesleyan University and Production Intern for Bartholomew Swims:

When I think of pools, I dream of handstands in the water, hot sidewalks, and hours of Marco Polo interrupted by sandwiches and snacks on the grass. At least three days a week, every summer since I could float, you could find me jumping off of an Austin city pool deck, alternating between pools to keep the people-watching fresh. Growing up I didn’t realize how lucky I was to live in a city with over forty public pools, nor did I register the sense of belonging that kept me coming back day in and day out. Pools, like parks, schools, churches or other community centers, are a place for reunion.

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Mario Navarrette, lifeguard and swim instructor, invites an audience member to come float in the pool. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

Coming home for the summer after my first year of college, I craved to be reunited with my oddly estranged hometown, and working at Forklift Danceworks did just that. While my time at Forklift reacquainted me with my home, each individual show of Bartholomew Swims acted as a reunion for the audience members as well. Forklift reminded us that pools are a place that we physically come together, but more importantly, that protecting our pools for the future is an issue that we all must get behind.

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Pam O’Connor, an Austin resident who has been teaching swim lessons for over 60 years, floats a community member in a contemplative scene during the performance. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

An important aspect of Forklift’s My Park, My Pool, My City series with the Parks Department is promoting equity in the pool system. Bartholomew Pool has always been a hub in the East Side, but the newly constructed pool starkly contrasts many other pools struggling to stay afloat. My role at Forklift involved spreading awareness of the show throughout the neighborhood and working with the community members that were part of the cast. Observing Pam O’Connor and Arlene Youngblood, two queens of the East Austin swimming community, I sensed their role in the community and in garnering support and awareness for this project. In a conversation with Pam, she reminded me that swimming not only invokes a sense of freedom and weightlessness, but “a pool meets larger policy objectives for the individuals of the community and [for] community involvement.” Reflecting on her conversations with past swim students and neighbors, Pam noticed the way the show “made the neighborhood aware of the jewel they have.” Bartholomew Swims cemented the importance of pools and reunited audience members with neighbors they may have not seen for years. While observing a community that I don’t play an active role in, I saw aspects of the larger warm and welcoming tone that I realized I had always taken for granted when I left Austin last fall.

 

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The performance featured three beloved residents and singers of East Austin: Yvonne Tapscott, Arlene Youngbood, and Daniel Davis. They sang as the audience and performing cast all stood together to form the edges of the old Bartholomew Pool. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

On show night I watched as the magic of each scene sunk into the minds of audience members, and I also experienced a sort of reunion of my own. I ran into past dance teachers, neighbors, old friends, and a mom of children I used to babysit. Even my high school’s football coach showed up to swim laps during rehearsal. In between shows one lifeguard mentioned they had seen their middle school history teacher and we soon realized that three of us, whose ages span eight years, all had the same teacher. The part that was so special was that nearly everyone at the show felt similar reactions. Whichever part of Austin the audience or cast members came from, they could unite around the nostalgia and joy of swimming evoked by the show. Bartholomew Swims sparked a dialogue in Austin that many of us didn’t realize we need to be having.

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The Forklift Danceworks 2017 summer interns pose at Bartholomew Pool before the show. L-R: Jake Stepansky, Sarafina Fabris-Green, Rae Fredericks, Nikki Perez, and Gretchen LaMotte. Photo by Mario Navarrette. Photo by Mario Navarrette.

 

Featured image: Lifeguards cheer on their colleagues in a high-energy race. Photo by Jonica Moore.

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