“Combo” Routines Explained!

This year, more clubs, including ANA Synchro, are putting together Combination (aka “Combo”) routines.  USA Synchro has added the event to Junior Olympics and all the way down to our association level meets.  In this first of a 2-part article, ANA Synchro Head Coach Leah Pinette helps us understand Combos:
A Combo routine can feature anywhere from one to all ten of its athletes.
ANA Synchro: What is a Combo routine?
Head Coach Leah Pinette: A Combination routine is made up of 8 to 10 swimmers, and USA Synchro is allowing athletes in the 13 & over Age Group to compete in them.  Unlike a typical team routine, where all athletes are doing pretty much the same thing, a Combo can separately feature anywhere from one to all ten of its athletes.  It’s longer, too, than a regular team routine by about a minute.  So, with a Combo, you have a chance to be more creative with the choreography and make it more of a “big story” routine.
ANA Synchro:  What do you mean by “big story”?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  It means telling a story with the choreography.  Many Combos are based on musicals or movies so there’s a built-in storyline or theme.  For example, I swam a Combo routine based on Chicago which had so many different aspects to the storyline that we tried to convey in the water.  And I remember one of my favorite Combos was a
West Side Story routine that I swam when I was on the US National Team.  We portrayed the Sharks and the Jets from our time on deck to swimming in the water.   I also love watching videos of some recent Combos that China has done.  You can look up their Phantom of the Opera and Alice in Wonderland routines on YouTube – they’re great!
ANA Synchro:  You said “today’s” Combos tell the stories….were they not always that way?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  They’ve definitely gotten much more involved than when they first started.  It used to be, for example, if you had a soloist performing, then everyone else was required to be on the side just eggbeatering.  And when it was time to swim again, the rest of the team would duck under the water, without being seen, to get into position.  They’ve relaxed those rules, so that’s why we have more free range today to play around with and build more intricate choreography.
A "Combo" routine can have up to 10 athletes.
ANA Synchro:  Combos must be challenging to choreograph if you’re also trying to tell a story!
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  The challenge is getting it to flow and connect and still tell the story.  You want to please the eye.  If your solo or your duet is swimming, you want the rest of the team doing something, but not be distracting.  So, yes, it’s challenging to keep the focus where it should be.  It should be obvious to the audience where they should look.
ANA Synchro:  Why did USA Synchro add Combos to Junior Olympics this year?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  I think it’s related to the decision to eliminate trios from the age group track.  Those tended to have more fun with their choreography. And trios aren’t competed on an international level whereas Combos are.   Combos are considered a spectator event, so they can actually help draw interest to the sport because they are so fun to watch.
ANA Synchro:  Are they judged the same as team routines?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  No.  The score is 100% routine, versus 50% routine + 50% figures for a team routine.  While figures are not counted, Combo athletes still have to compete in figures.  The routine score is still judged on Difficulty, Technical Merit, and Artistic Expression. Technical Merit is how well you execute the moves and your synchronization; and Artistic Expression will include your use of music, overall presentation, and choreography.
13 & Over Age Group Athletes can compete this year in the Combo event at Association-level meets as well as Junior Olympics.
ANA Synchro:  Do you expect to see a lot of clubs doing Combo this year?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  We’ll see as the season goes on who will be competing in a Combo.  When I was competing, most teams entered them at US Opens because they weren’t competed at any other competition throughout the year.  In the past, US Opens was held during the summer, when school was out.  Teams had more time to focus on this event especially since it wasn’t in our regular season meets.  I’m hoping teams that may not have them this year will consider having one next year.  This year, more athletes, coaches and spectators will be introduced to the event.  Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw combination routines in the Olympics someday.
ANA Synchro: What’s the best way to approach a Combo if a club doesn’t have a lot of experience with them?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:   I’d recommend starting from a theme and going from there.  You could even look up old-style Combo routines where people were eggbeatering on the side while the solos and duets performed. It’s still OK to do that, and it may give a club an easier starting point.  You don’t have to be so intricate with the choreography if you’re just starting out with Combos.  Luckily for ANA Synchro, we’ve done Combo routines before, and I have swum routines both in the old-style as well as the newer connecting-style.
ANA Synchro: What can an athlete learn from a Combo that she may not learn from a more traditional team routine?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  I think the biggest thing they can learn is the bigger picture of a routine and how everything connects.  If they’re doing one thing in the water, they should be thinking about how they connect to others who may not be right next to them as they would be in a team routine.  These routines also are more artistically oriented than a technically-driven team routine which allows athletes to express more of their artistic side.  Synchronized swimming is, after all, a performance sport.
Combo athletes are all smiles after their first meet of the season!
ANA Synchro: Finally, what is ANA Synchro doing for Combo this year?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  Our theme is “Snow White and the Huntsman.”  We have someone portraying the evil queen, and someone portraying Snow White.  And we are delighted to be doing a Combo this year combined with athletes from two other clubs in our area – Cambridge Synchro  and the North Shore YMCA Selkies. We’re just a few months into it, but so far it’s been a great experience for the athletes and for us coaches.  We can’t wait to take our Combo to more association level meets as the season progresses and national meets as well.
Stay tuned for Part 2
of “What is a Combo?” where we ask Leah to talk more about ANA Synchro’s
combined combo with Cambridge Synchro and the North Shore YMCA Selkies!