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Sink or swim: Aquabelles revived
Sally Hixson admits she's not the most coordinated of performers.
"I'm the kind that falls on stage," says the Spokane, Wash., resident.
But when Hixson, 65, performs as one of the Gila Mountain Aquabelles, she feels transformed.
"I feel graceful and pretty," she said.
The Aquabelles have been wowing crowds for more than 20 years. They hold an annual water ballet performance at the Gila Mountain RV Park in the Foothills.
"We were afraid nobody would come, but they came out in droves," Henriette Ronalds, 63, of Langley, British Columbia, said, noting that more than 200 attended the recent evening performance.
According to a 2005 article in the Yuma Sun, the tradition of the aquatic show was started at Gila Mountain RV Park in about 1985 by Gary Kay, a swimmer from Edmonton, Alberta. For a while the club "died down" but was revived by club captain Joanne Hansen, 61, of Kimberly, British Columbia. "It's so neat, I didn't think it should die," Hansen told the Yuma Sun.
This year the club had 12 performers, about twice the number from previous years. The other members are Jeannine Kelley, 76, of Spokane, Wash.; Sue Batey, 61, of Eugene, Ore.; Arlene Hammond, 86, of Woodburn, Ore.; Gayle Oliver, 67, of Penticton, British Columbia; Gladys Elmquist, 80, of Edmonton, Wash.; Audrey Burton, 71, of Poulson, Mont.; Brenda Jeffries, 52, of Yuma; Mary Jane Ohl of Polsbo, Wash.; and Mary Jane Rosine of Calgary, Alberta.
The 13th member, Judy Butler of Bremerton, Wash., had foot surgery and could not go into the water, so she became the caller this year. Much like square dancing, a caller calls out the formations with names like "butterfly" and "fountain" and "daisy," which features two "lady bees" diving into the center of the flower.
For the "Army Brats" the Aquabelles line up in three rows and "march" while chanting a military cadence. For some formations the ladies divide into two, three or four groups. The water ballet is performed to classical music.
The end-of-the-season show was an elegant affair. Candles lined the pool. Tons of twinkle lights lit up an arbor, a recent gift from the park owners.
For the performance the Aquabelles wore colorful jewelry, matching hot-pink caps and black bathing suits.
Some members were recruited from a water aerobics class at the park. Hammond noted that water ballet is "pretty good exercise." She joined the club in 1993, and at 86 years old is the senior member.
Batey joked that she was "tricked" into joining the group. "They asked me three years ago if I would just practice with them."
"And once you're in you can't get out," a smiling Oliver quipped.
Batey recalled seeing the Aquabelles for the first time 13 years ago. "It was at night and it was freezing. We were wrapped up in Mexican blankets and these gals were in the water - it's a heated pool - and I thought, that's the place to be."
Ronalds said she was happy to join the club, but "nobody told me there was a performance at the end of the year," she said, laughing.
However, the women agreed the show was the perfect end to the season. They celebrated with champagne.
"After the performance, people were taking our pictures. We felt like movie stars," Hixson said.
To join the group "the only thing you have to be able to do is float," Hixson noted, adding, "We're not perfect. We just try to have a good time. When we go home, our friends are impressed and our family is so proud. It makes me feel so good."