Swim Philly aims to activate our public pools with water fun

Come on in, the water's fine!

by Brittany Barbato

As I stared out at the water wobbling in front of me, I hugged my yellow and purple towel tight around my body. Should I have shaved my legs? What if my bathing suit doesn’t, you know, keep everything in? Everyone else is wearing sunglasses; should I have brought sunglasses? My mind had been captured by a riptide, dragging with it the confidence in my decision to join a friend for aqua Zumba at the Francisville Playground pool. I’m not even good at Zumba on land... What had made me want to try it in water? 

Well, for one thing, it was free. Swim Philly, a program initiated by Philadelphia Parks and Recreation last year to increase amenities and attendance at municipal pools, offers the class and other aquatic programming to the public throughout the summer.

So there I was, fighting my mental current, when an energetic, athletic instructor assumed her position on deck and motioned for us to get in. Um, if I have to do this in the water, then doesn’t she? My internal resistance was futile; last one in the pool is a rotten egg. I dipped my left big toe into the cool blue and eased myself down the side wall. 

With a slight head nod to an off-duty lifeguard, the instructor cued the music. We dove into the first routine with the same high-energy steps as regular Zumba—we grapevined and galloped and shimmied and shook—but we were moving at a more elongated pace (think: dancing in Jell-O). Our upper body movements often resulted in a splash, smack or swoosh. Kids nearby giggled and pointed: There is something silly about adults flopping around like fish in shallow water. We laughed, too. This is good for you. I reminded myself the awkward motion was also a benefit: According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aquatic exercise can be less stressful on joints and muscles, and may improve mental health and mood.

When Marc Anthony’s dreamy, strained voice kicked off the next song, we cheered. “Voy a reír, voy a bailar/vivir mi vida la la la la!” He was coaxing us to join him in laughing, dancing and living life. And Alain Joinville, public relations manager for Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, says this is exactly what Swim Philly offers the community: a time to have fun exercising and connecting with neighbors. In fact, inspiration for the program originated from a community member who felt that enhancing the pool experience for patrons would also make it more inviting and make neighbors feel more comfortable at the pool.

The sun was warm, the music was hot, the water was cool and people were sharing smiles with each other—I definitely felt more comfortable. After class, there was a buzz in the air. Two seniors exchanged phone numbers. A teen who had watched us from afar approached the instructor to ask if the class would be back next week. It would. And so would I, because the water, it turns out, is just fine.

Swim Philly Summer 2017 Information

Francisville Playground Pool
1737 Francis St.
Poolside Yoga: Tuesday, 7 to 8 p.m.
Aqua Zumba: Wednesday, 6 to 7 p.m.

Lawncrest Rec Center Pool
6000 Rising Sun Ave.
Aqua Zumba: Monday and Thursday, 6 to 7 p.m.

Lee Cultural Center Pool
4328 Haverford Ave.
Aqua Zumba: Wednesday, 6 to 7 p.m.
Poolside Yoga: Thursday, 6 to 7 p.m.

O'Connor Pool
4328 Haverford Ave.
Aqua Zumba: Monday, 6 to 7 p.m.
Poolside Yoga: Tuesday, 7 to 8 p.m.

Pleasant Playground Pool
6720 Boyer St.
Aqua Zumba: Thursday, 7 to 8 p.m.

Complete List of Philadelphia Public Pools and Hours:
phila.gov/parksandrecreation/placestogo/facilities/pages/swimmingpools.aspx