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VIDEO: Subversive sirens make a splash on campus – Newsroom

Part pool party, part swimming lesson, this was certainly not your average campus lecture. With no stage or auditorium in sight, attendees were invited to jump directly into the pool at the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex aquatic center.

Each month, the University of St. Thomas’ Luann Dummer Center for Women brings a community speaker to campus as part of the Making Waves program. The recent event took those “waves” quite literally when they hosted the Subversive Sirens on April 25. The group is a Minnesota-based synchronized swimming team committed to black liberation, swimming equality, radical body acceptance and queer visibility.

After a performance of the group’s latest award-winning routine, the Sirens invited the audience to join them in the pool for a special lesson in synchronized swimming techniques and a little exercise.

“Our theme for this year’s programming at the Luann Dummer Center for Women is joy, and central to the Subversive Sirens’ mission is joy,” said current LDCW Director Shaherzad Ahmadi, who is also an associate professor of history at St. Thomas. “Through their performance and lecture, they sparked a discussion about equality in the aquatic arts and about the intersections of political activism and athletics.”

Subversive sirens
The Subversive Sirens dive into the AARC pool on south campus at the start of a performance of their latest award-winning routine. (Brandon Woller ’17/University of St. Thomas)

Subversive Sirens made their competitive debut at the Gay Games in 2018, winning a gold medal for their free combo routine. Since then they have won awards all over the world. But for team members, it’s not the hardware that keeps them swimming together; it’s the message they spread at every performance.

“I definitely do it for my own healing, my own joy, my own liberation… but it’s contagious,” said co-founder Signe Harriday. “When we have the opportunity to share synchro with other people, I hope it gives them a spark of joy and serves as a reminder that they can find joy in the space that is right for them.”

Among the Siren members: St. Thomas psychology professor Dr. Roxanne Prichard, who believes joyful movement plays an important role in moving through life.

“Girls and women are so often conditioned to focus on what their bodies shouldn’t be – too fat here, too soft there, not curved in acceptable ways – and not how to feel our bodies as they joyfully move through the world moves. Prichard said. “My joyful movement happens to involve swimming upside down and backwards.”

The group says advocacy takes many forms, and liberation practices like theirs play an important role.

“These kinds of embodied experiences are necessary for people who work very hard to build resilience through their bodies,” says Tana Hargest, another member. “Having an experience that is actually about what your body can do to others in the space is very important and key to unlocking other paths to liberation.”