Givens Swims: A Dance for a City Pool and It’s People

Photo by Cindy Elizabeth.
The tides have been turning in East Austin for some time.
 
A few decades ago with gentrification.
 
Nearly a century ago when Austin leaders segregated the city.
 
Tides continue to turn as people who live in East Austin adapt — and ride the waves of change.
 
This adaptation is experienced by so many members of the community — old and new. 
 
Thankfully, there exist local groups and organizations helping navigate these potentially … treacherous waters. Groups like Forklift Danceworks
 
Now, explaining what Forklift Danceworks does is akin to describing that scene in Flashdance (sorry, millennials — Google it) when Jennifer Beals’ character, while performing a dance routine, pulls a chain extending from the roof, releasing a cascade of water down onto her person. 
 
You kinda have to see it to fully grasp it. But, allow this writer to try:
 
Founded in 2001 by local artist and choreographer Allison Orr, Forklift Danceworks aims to elevate respect and understanding of “the common man” by presenting dance performances by sanitation workers, power linemen, warehouse employees, and the like — people in our communities who work very hard every day in fields we collectively sometimes take for granted.

The thing is, these performances are only visibly about body movement. The organization is successfully using choreography to address much larger issues.
 
If you’ve not heard of Forklift Danceworks, you may have heard of “Trash Dance,” an award-winning documentary featuring Austin sanitation workers and their trucks busting some wild moves. (Again, you have to see it.)

We are using collaborative artmaking to bring people together
For the last three years, the group has been making a splash in a whole new area — local swimming pools — in a spectacular show called “My Park, My Pool, My City,” a trilogy of performances aimed at educating our community about city pools and the people who use and maintain them.
 
But, it’s about so much more than that.
 
“We are using collaborative artmaking to bring people together,” says Forklift’s Associate Artistic Director Krissie Marty. “With past projects, we have seen that collaborating with communities to create a performance gets people talking and more connected to the places where they live and work, and to each other.”
 
The first two years of this three-year project saw performances in 2017 at Bartholomew Pool off 51st street east of I-35, and Dove Springs Pool last year in Southeast Austin. This year, Austinites can enjoy the final performances of the project at East Austin’s Givens Pool, which the City of Austin is soon set to renovate.
 
During the upcoming shows, audiences will not only be entertained by swimmers of all ages and walks of life, but they will also learn about the history of Givens Pool, and city employees will share what it takes to maintain the 60-year-old swimming pool.

“For a pool, that’s really old,” said Jonathan Tapscott of Austin’s Aquatics Division. “People think we just fill the pools with water and that’s it. That’s the furthest from the truth. The pools have to have the right chemicals, the right PH levels — there are valves, motors, and pumps. People don’t see that.”

it’s also a chance to showcase the beauty of East Austin

Grooving in Givens Pool with Tapscott and his fellow aquatics division crew during the performances you’ll see, and hopefully meet, people who have been helping shape the image of East Austin for decades. “This is necessary to showcase not only the need for the repair of the pools, but it’s also a chance to showcase the beauty of East Austin — what was, what is, and what can be” says lap swimmer and local business and communications consultant Arlene Youngblood. “Each showcased pool has its own uniqueness. You’ve gotta have some dance. You’ve gotta have storytelling about Dr. Everett Givens. You’re telling the beauty of the events that happened here.” Events like the Miss East Austin pageant.
 
“It’s a celebration of Givens Pool,” says Pearl Cox, Miss East Austin, 1976. “We want people to come out and celebrate with us.”

Not to be “out-swum” by their elders are some of our city’s younger residents who are earning and learning by participating as youth leaders. During the performance, it’s 14-year-old Anthony Green’s important and coveted role to help escort the Miss East Austins across the pool water as they sit, in pageantry, on their floats.
 
“I have to be very careful,” he says, “because if I make one wrong mistake, I’ll be very disappointed in myself.”

Forklift Danceworks not only has the support of an inspired and devoted community, but also financial support by a pack of corporate sponsors including the St. David’s Foundation and the Austin Parks Foundation. Former Austin City Council member Laura Morrison is on the group’s advisory committee and will take part in the performances.
 
“The heritage of the neighborhood and the community here,” she says, “is just such a wonderful thing to be able to celebrate.”
There are two final performances of Givens Swims scheduled for July 27th and 28th at Givens Park starting at 8:30pm each night. Visit Forklift Dancework’s website for more information.
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