Aqualillies give modern twist to water ballet

(CBS News) What do you get when mix bathing caps, bright red lipstick and hip hop? The Aqualillies. Theirs is a modern twist on the glamorous water ballet seen in films from the 1940s and 1950s, and a reinvention of the pool party.

Wearing vintage swimsuits and bathing caps, the Aqualillies look like performers from a bygone era. The group is made up of dancers who learned to swim, and synchronized swimmers who learned to dance.

"It really is a hybrid of elegance and glamour," said the group's founder and director, performance artist Mesha Kussman. "A little spicier, a little more attitude, kind of a modern-day vibe too."

The Aqualillies will be featured this summer at poolside soirees at the Beverly Hills Hotel as part of the historic hideaway's centennial celebration.

Over the past the three years Kussman's company has performed in pools across the country, pushing their aquatic skills to new heights. Kussman says her group is like the "Radio City Rockettes of the water."

The retro look and feel harkens back to the golden age of Hollywood, when a competitive swimmer named Esther Williams became an actress and brought synchronized swimming to the big screen.

The Aqualillies were thrilled to pay tribute to Williams, now 90, when she came to watch their show in 2010. That was the same year Mary Jeanette joined the team. Jeannette says she has looked up to Williams her entire life. She says she feels lucky to be able to be a competitive synchronized swimmer and entertainer.

But it's more than just entertainment - it's also a great way to get in shape.

Designed by Kussman, the Aqualillies' fitness classes at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica, Calif., are making quite a splash.

Class participant Martha Sternthal said, "It just sounded like a great chance to dress up in (a) terrific costume, and when you're doing this, you don't even notice you're exercising."

The classes will soon be offered in other cities, and the troupe is also expanding, auditioning new members in New York, Florida and Texas.

The Aqualillies are currently performing every Friday night through August 24 at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The performances are free to the public with paid parking at the hotel.

Watch the Aqualillies at work in the Bill Whitaker's "CBS This Morning" story above.

  • Bill Whitaker

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