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Applauding the Aquacade

From Aquabelles to pigs, this water-focused entertainment was extremely popular

Photo provided courtesy of the Louisiana Division at the New Orleans Public Library

One of the 1984 Louisiana World’s Fair’s most popular attractions was the Aquacade. Located in Bayou Plaza, the Aquacade had seating for 3,500 and featured a crescent-shaped swimming pool and two 94-foot-high diving towers. The high-camp musical extravaganza “America Swims” was 45 minutes of synchronized swimming, high dives, comedy and lavish costumes, all set to music from the 1920s-’80s. The grand finale, Splashdance, was described as a “1980s Aqua-disco.”

Planning for the Aquacade started well in advance, with the hiring of Emmy and Tony award-winning director Ron Field. Recruited for training and specialized choreography was Marion Elsted, known at the time as the world’s best synchronized swimming coach.

Elsted’s connections brought in star synchronized swimmers to fill the roles of the 36 Aquabelles, comprised mostly of international champions from the United States, Zimbabwe, Russia and other countries, who would perform up to 42 shows a week. The secret to keeping their hair in perfect place? Knox gelatin, which “holds very well as long as (they) are not in hot water.”

One of the 14 professional high divers hired for the fair was a local: Nicky Starr of Metairie. Starr began his career at Pontchartrain Beach, where he performed as one of a duo: The Starr Brothers. He was a world championship diver in 1983, and then came to the Aquacade before going on to set Guinness World Records for diving later in his career.

The Aquacade was used to film a bit starring Brooke Shields for Bob Hope’s 81st birthday TV special: “Super Birthday – A World’s Fair Salute to Bob Hope.” But Shields wasn’t the only star garnering great attention at the Aquacade; also drawing a big crowd was the gold lamé caped “Ralph the Diving Pig.” Reports were that he slid more than dived into the pool, but that his 45-second long swim around the pool was great entertainment.

Note: This is Part 9 of a yearlong focus on the 1984 Louisiana World’s Fair.

An advertisement for the Aquacade at the 1984 World’s Fair.
Image provided courtesy of the New Orleans Public Library

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