…the dive

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31.
— Your father taught you to dive at an early age, first sitting you at the edge of the pool, arms pointing like a giant beak, encouraging you to tip gently into the water. You don’t remember the transition from sitting to standing but at some point, when the fear had gone, you would have felt joy at the effusion of bubbles fizzing across your body, the long strides as your arms swept through the underwater haze, muffled, suspended in time for the briefest moment.

— In 2011, the French choreographer, Philippe Decouflé, created a ballet performed in a swimming baths, titled Un tragique ballet nautique par des plongeurs inexpérimentés, or, A tragic nautical ballet by inexperienced divers.
The dancers defy the signs no diving, jumping, pushing or throwing another person in. A suited man dives from a high platform, the underwater camera capturing him as a plunging penguin. There is a male mermaid; a woman in a red dress, her face obscured by the mask of a duck; a man wearing the skirt of a wedding dress. There is heavy petting. A lifeguard sits in a chair watching, helpless against the rule-breaking rabble.

— You sometimes defy the No Diving signs. Sometimes you are reprimanded, sometimes not. Sometimes there is no sign but no-one is diving, and so you begin. Dive, swim, climb out. Dive, swim, climb out. You are a bird diving for morsels of weed. Over and over. And slowly others join you, tentatively at first, but when they realise there is no-one to stop them they smile, they dive again, they remember this is something they can do. This makes the heart hammer, the blood rush. For the first time in a long time, their bodies are awake.

— You have dived into a Tuscan river pool, disregarding the skin scraped from your legs each time you hauled yourself out over the rocks; you have dived into a lake at summer camp in Upper New York State, where the fish nibbled your toes; you have dived into a rocky pool in Corsica, its black unseeable depths giving you the fear of hidden rocks and ledges. Each time you try not to think about your head hitting a rock and splitting like a melon.

— You only enjoy swimming if you can dive, the glittering jewel amongst the mundane. The only exception to this is the sea where you feel the current shifting around your body and the undulation of waves. You float, the calls of children and seagulls muffled green, your muscles softening to the push and pull. The moon as master puppeteer.

— To prevent pain in your lower spine, you swim blindly on your back. Your mild fear of the unseen is only tempered by your view of the route you’ve already travelled, the vast sky above you, the clouds, the birds, the riverside trees or ragged cliff tops. You embrace this movement into the unknown. It has taken you to many joyful places.

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