Synchronized swimming is a complicated sport, bringing together elements of swimming, gymnastics and ballet. Competitors are highly skilled and their timing, strength and balance are all crucial for a good run. Routines, as Team Canada proved in 2009, can be elaborate, dramatic and slightly disconcerting.

At the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the competition will be as fierce as ever and the performances complex and original. But things were different in the 1960s, when international swimming body FINA had yet to recognize synchronized swimming as an official sport.

This British Pathé video was shot at a holiday camp in Clacton, on the southeast coast of England. A team of young swimmers, or “water babies,” according to the narrator, prepares for the performance, wearing swim caps that may have been inspired by pineapples. For their first move, the girls form a star. They manage it pretty well. Problem is, when they move backwards to break out into the star, they can’t stop moving. The synchronized swimmers’ star explodes, like a supernova. They rein it back in, and into formation.

With a couple of underwater moves, the troop seems to gain in confidence. The music—airport lounge-style strings—carries the routine forward to the showstopper: a human underwater fairground wheel.  

This group may not be ready for the world championships or the Olympics, but they were not bad at this new-fangled sport. 

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