You’re sitting poolside at a party in Beverly Hills. The people are beautiful, the cocktails strong, and you’re pretty sure that blonde in the sunglasses a few tables over is Kate Hudson.
Abruptly, the music changes, and a crew of glamorous-looking women stride in, wearing matching swimsuits and bathing caps and carrying parasols. The crowd lets out a small gasp as the women jump in the water, swimming in choreographed formation to the music.
This is precisely the effect that Mary Ramsey ’08 and the Aqualillies work to achieve with all of their performances, calling themselves “the world’s most glamorous synchronized swimming entertainment company.” This claim is backed by write-ups in Vogue, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times Magazine and Marie Claire.
“Basically, anytime someone needs girls in the water in Hollywood, we’re the call,” said Ramsey, who according to Vogue, “resembles Jean Harlow if she’d had beachy waves.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Ramsey has been involved with synchronized swimming since the age of 6. She met William & Mary synchronized swimming coach Barbara McNamee at a competition while in high school, and transferred to the College after a year at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
“I absolutely loved it,” said Ramsey of W&M. “There was a one-on-one experience that I wasn’t really getting before.”
Majoring in art history, Ramsey spent all three years on the William & Mary Mermettes Gold Team, serving as the club team’s president and swimming in national competitions.
“She was delightful to work with,” said McNamee. “She worked hard, she was very conscientious and she swam very well. I’m really proud of her.”
After graduating, Ramsey returned to L.A. and pursued a law degree at the University of Southern California.
Photograph by Felicity Murphy
Halfway through law school, she learned about the Aqualillies, and was immediately enamored.
“Someone finally understood that this was something that could be really glamorous, not something sporty and gimmicky,” she said. “I’ve never seen such a combination of synchronized swimming and dance like that before. It’s kind of like Busby Berkeley.”
Since she first got involved with the Aqualillies in 2009, she has become the company’s head of casting and creative in addition to practicing law part time. Casting the swimmers, teaching them the material, picking the music, helping choose costumes and working with the dance choreographer are all part of her job — in addition to performing.
And those performances have included some high-profile gigs. The Aqualillies have appeared in an episode of “Glee,” the music video for Justin Bieber’s “Beauty and a Beat,” concert footage for John Legend, and a surprise party for a certain pop superstar: “We did Justin Timberlake’s 30th birthday party,” she said. “It was just this weird, surreal experience.”
The Aqualillies have also founded branches in New York, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Canada, and it’s Ramsey’s job to cast and train them.
“If I hadn’t done synchronized swimming a couple of extra years in college, I wouldn’t be as good as I am now,” Ramsey said. “Barbara McNamee was great, and really pushed me to be better. Being a leader among my peers was a really important and interesting growth experience, and it has really applied to the Aqualillies.”
As Ramsey traverses the continent spreading the synchronized gospel, she’s convinced she’s got the best job in the world.
“I love the freedom I feel in the water,” Ramsey said. “The water allows me to do things I can’t do on my own. I feel like a superhero. My heart is definitely in the water.”