When Melon Dash realized that probably half of the 20 adults she was teaching to swim were more concerned about just staying alive in the water than whether they were moving their arms qand legs correctly, she knew there had to be a better way.
That was in 1978, when Dash was a water safety instructor at
College in New Hampshire. Since then, she has started the
Swimming Institute in Sarasota, Fla., and introduced a somewhat
revolutionary adult learn-to-swim approach that could someday
become the basis for all swim lessons.
The method of Dash’s MSI takes a step back from the
traditional instruction programs and focuses on the more emotional
aspects of learning, addressing fears and helping individuals to
become comfortable in the water. The method hasn’t yet been
adopted by any major learn-to-swim agencies, including the YMCA of the USA and the
Cross. But Dash estimates she’s worked with approximately
4,000 students since starting her business in 1983 and notes that
all of them say it changed their lives. Now there are nearly 30
other MSI instructors and, Dash says, time and money may prohibit
some clients from becoming full-fledged swimmers, but all students
overcome a tremendous amount of fear.
The program is based on what she calls The 5 Circles Teaching
Method. This learning paradigm taps into the spiritual and
emotional aspects of a person’s makeup. Instructors focus on
helping students maintain a level of emotional comfort as they
embark on learning.
To develop a better picture of how fear and anxiety factor into
adults’ ability to learn to swim, in 1998 MSI commissioned a
Gallup poll to survey nearly 1,000 American adults.
The results support Dash’s theory that adults who can’t
swim are blocked by emotions. Gallup found that 46 percent of
American adults are afraid in deep water in pools, 64 percent are
afraid in deep open water, and 39 percent are afraid to put their
“Nobody has ever done a poll like that,” Dash says.
“It’s the only statistics we have [of that
In the end, the former competitive swimmer says, “Most of our
current swimming lessons only serve 50 percent of the population
[those not afraid in water].” For that reason, Dash plans to
keep spreading her message and sharing the success of her program.
“It really is time for a 21st century method. For 27 years,
I’ve been trying to shake people and say, ‘You want