So Traci Hines is one glamorously open-hearted little-mermaid-loving girl who happens to look and sound just like some Ariel. Just look at this:
I know. She’ll also be one of the featured performers at the World Mermaid Awards this August at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, where I suspect she’ll actually glow and possibly be accompanied by a crab. Check out the links at the end of the interview to hear Traci’s original music and learn more about this sparkling lass.
In the meantime, here’s our gorgeous Q and A.
How long have you been a mermaid (and do you see yourself as a mermaid)?
Well, let’s see… I’ve been singing since I was three years old, and by the time I was five, I knew it was what I wanted to pursue for a living. My first *mermaid* experience was of course, seeing Disney’s The Little Mermaid. I had seen other Disney princess movies, and loved them, but at four years old I connected to Ariel in a way I hadn’t with any other character in popular media. I loved that she was a mermaid; I admired her giant expressive eyes and bright red hair, but her singing voice was what captured me. Ever since, the folklore about mermaids seemed magical to me, and I’ve had a bit of a fascination with them. I don’t think of myself as a mermaid literally, though I do portray singing mermaid characters professionally (starting about three years ago), but I love the idea of being compared to a modern day siren: A girl with a voice that beckons people towards its message….I don’t know if I’m even that girl, but I sure dream of having a voice like Ariel’s, that captivates the listener, and inspires hope and faith in the next generation.
Do you have a love for mermaids generally or are you more focused on Ariel in particular?
I am drawn to anything having to do with mermaids… any movie with a mermaid in it, you can bet I’ve seen it! I’m currently reading a book that TailMan, Thom Shouse, gave to me as a gift: a novel by Kelly Reno called ‘Misadventures and Merfolk.” (And looking forward to reading yours next by the way!) I’ve familiarized myself with all the tail makers online, and been blessed to be able to participate in photo shoots wearing tails created by some of the most renowned tail makers, Thom the TailMan and The Mertailor. One of the shoots was an incredible project for JoEllen Elam, the designer behind FireFly-Path.net, and Indigo Verse, her incredible photographer. Ever since I’ve fantasized about owning one of those incredible, realistic looking mermaid tails! (Hopefully by the Mercon I’ll be able to make that happen!) I plan photo shoots around the concept of mermaids, I sell mermaid inspired accessories through my Etsy shop, The Siren’s Grotto, have some upcoming video shoots planned as both Ariel and an original mermaid, and sometimes even write music inspired by maids of the sea! But I would be lying if I claimed to love any other mermaid more than everyone’s favorite siren, Ariel. The Little Mermaid was the doorway for me for all things in the mermaid/merfolk community.
In what ways do you relate to Ariel? What is her appeal to you?
I think one of the great things about Ariel’s character is that so many young girls relate to her, she is someone we could all see being best friends with: She’s bubbly and vivacious, fun loving and inspiring, and many of those qualities are ones we strive for ourselves: her fearlessness, her likability, her passion, her ambition and her true heart. Like so many other girls out there, I not only see myself in her, but see who I want to be. She is my favorite Disney princess because she is silly and giggly, like me! And she doesn’t wait around for things to happen. She has big, almost impossible dreams, and doesn’t let anyone stop her in going after them. I’m like that in a sense. Being in the music or entertainment industry, it seems you’re always hearing the word, “No.” But you have to believe in the gifts God gave you, and believe anything is possible and keep going on. Like Ariel, I’ve also had to live life without a speaking or singing voice for a time..I have been plagued with vocal nodules, a singer’s vocal condition, the symptoms of which are hoarseness, a sore, aching throat, loss of vocal control and range, and sometimes even loss of your voice. The weather, different climate conditions, and how I treat my voice (no shouting, and minimal talking) determines how healthy my voice is on a given day. The nodes develop and heal, (I’ve had them multiple times), and the probability that they’ll come back is something I will probably always have to live with, but I am in vocal treatment now and have learned how to take care of my voice for the most part. But every once in a while an episode could arise where I’m back in that position again, having to rest my voice and be speechless like Ariel was those three days with her Prince. It’s hard not being able to communicate, and even harder not being allowed to sing when it’s your biggest passion. When I have to record or perform, I generally clear my schedule the week prior so I can properly rest my voice and be able to perform. It can really get in the way of living a social life. But that’s the sacrifice I have to make. But Ariel got her happy ending and I am living mine too, getting to do what I love so much for a living. In the end, it’s worth it.
How do people react to you when you’re dressed as The Little Mermaid?
I guess that depends on where I am! When I’m at events where I’m hired to portray The Little Mermaid, it’s pure magic. The children’s faces light up when they see me dressed as their favorite mermaid princess-usually I’m swarmed with a flurry of instant hugs, and when I start to sing, the reaction is indescribable! Seeing those kids be so mesmerized and happy that the character is singing just for them is so special-and a lot of times, even the parents get excited too! I love it when they sing along! It’s got to be the most wonderful job in the world! When I’m at conventions or events with more adults, it’s more about a photo opp. Then there are the times when I happen to be in a Starbucks, or coming back from an event, still dressed as the character. The reactions are mixed..most people are confused about why I’m in costume, but generally I get lots of moms and dads asking to take my picture to show their son or daughter back at home! Until I dyed my hair back blonde recently, I had fire red ‘Ariel hair’ even out of costume, and was often stopped on the street by little ones asking me if I was Ariel, and wanting to meet me. I’m told the resemblance is pretty strong, but I’m not even sure if it’s that I actually look like her, or if the care with the makeup, hair, costume and acting is what does it. Regardless, wherever I happen to be when I’m dressed as Ariel, it’s always a lot of fun! I’ve lost all sense of shame and modesty by now, haha. I’m so used to playing the character that it’s become a part of who I am.
Have you read the original little mermaid story by Hans Christian Andersen (if so what are your thoughts on it as compared to the Disney film?)?
I have read the original Little Mermaid story by Hans Christian Anderson. I’m grateful for the literature, because of course, it is what inspired Disney to create their version of the story! When I was young, I remember my mom bought me a condensed, children’s version of the original Little Mermaid story. It was slightly less graphic than the original, but still the same heartwrenching story. I enjoyed reading it, and later in life read and re-read the original (full) version, but I’ll be honest, I’m a happy ending kind of girl. When the girl doesn’t get the guy at the end of a story, it’s hard for me to enjoy it as much. I like when things are “Disney-fied” to include that happy ending we all want for the Princess! I’m a glass half full, hearts and rainbows, the future is going to be brighter than the present, dreamer…so there is no contest in which version I prefer. I also relate much more to Disney’s Ariel with her bubbly personality than the shy little mermaid in the Hans Christian Anderson story, who ” was a strange child, quiet and thoughtful; and while her sisters would be delighted with the wonderful things which they obtained from the wrecks of vessels, she cared for nothing but her pretty red flowers, like the sun, excepting a beautiful marble statue.” Her sisters sound much more like Ariel than she, with their sense of adventure..it’s hard for me to root for a character that is so one dimensional….but maybe that’s just me. I don’t mean to knock the story though-it was written beautifully, and was created so long ago-times have changed. Hans Christian Anderson opened the door for loads of mermaid folklore and stories for generations to come with his classic tale.
What is it that you love about Disney? What don’t I love about Disney?
Ever since I was a little girl, the Princess movies have been my favorites. I think the music in the movies more than anything is what set Disney films apart from other animated movies. Once Disney started making films without singing characters, I started to lose interest a little…I am so glad they brought it back with films like Tangled and Enchanted!
What are your thoughts about the World Mermaid Awards? Have you met a number of mermaids before… or will this be new to you?
I think it’s fantastic that merfolk finally have a convention to call their own. There are conventions for everything else…why not everything mermaid too?! I hope that the Awards & Mercon is a huge success, and that it exists for many years to come! I hope it becomes an annual event to look forward to for all mermaid fans! I’ve met many mermaid models and mermaid fans who enjoy creating costumes or swimming in tails, but I’ve only become savvy to this world recently-in the past year or so; it’s all still pretty new to me. I didn’t realize there were so many people out there like me that were into not just admiring mermaid art or folklore, but actually made a hobby out of transforming themselves into mermaids too! I love it!
Can you talk a little about cosplay? What is it? Is mermaiding a form of cosplay, do you think, or does it extend beyond that?
Cosplay is a hobby that is essentially dressing up as a character for fun..outside of the theater or other realms like that. Cosplay is often done at conventions (anime/comic/fandom..) and usually the cosplayer creates the costume him or herself, though it is also very common for cosplayers to commission or purchase their costumes as well. I tend to think of cosplay in relation to animated characters, usually Japanese anime (though Disney cosplay has gotten very popular over the past couple years with the release of the Kingdom Hearts games and new Disney movies), but cosplay, at least, my own definition of it, includes any character or persona, fictional or not…there are lots of cosplayers out there that create their own original characters and take part in cosplay that way…and that is where I see ‘mermaiding’ fitting into the cosplay definition. Most mermaid performers that I’ve come across (that are not dressing as Ariel) are their own unique character…I would definitely define that as cosplay and roleplay. I think how far it extends is up to the individual. Some people simply put on a costume for a few hours and that’s it, while others create a whole persona and act ‘in character’ whenever they are in costume. Whenever I attend conventions in Disney cosplay, I try to be in character for the photos and when interacting with people…mostly because there are usually children present, and I would never want to ‘break the magic’ so to speak. If a child saw Ariel suddenly say or do something unbefitting of a Disney princess, well, that could be a negative thing. I think with the mermaid cosplay, I fall somewhere in the middle…I don’t have a mermaid persona (unless you count Ariel herself!), if you’re an adult and you come up to me when I am dressed in an original mermaid costume, 9 times out of 10 I’ll just be myself. But if children are present, you better believe I am going to be the most authentic, convincing siren of the sea they ever meet! (-: In this day and age, kids grow up so fast…why rush it when you have the opportunity to bring a little magic into their day?
Has dressing and appearing as Ariel changed you in any way?
Definitely! I think a part of me has always been ‘Ariel’ on the inside…we’re a lot alike I think…but ever since I dyed my blonde hair red, and began actually performing as The Little Mermaid for children, even when I am out of costume I think I tend to take more care in how I act and present myself, at least whenever little ones are around, since they always seemed to believe I was her regardless of what I was wearing! Even in jeans on the street I would be stopped and asked almost daily if I was ‘The Little Mermaid.’ One day a few months ago I was at Disneyland with some friends, in line for a ride. There were 2 cute little 6 or 7 year old girls in line in front of me. They asked me if I was Ariel, and I told them what I told all the kids who asked me that Q when I was out of costume, “Nope, but she’s a good friend of mine. My name’s Traci! Nice to meet ya!” They asked if I wasn’t Ariel, why was my hair so red? I told them the truth: I dyed it and I used to have blonde hair. We sang Disney songs and talked for the entire 30 minutes we waited in line. At one point I heard one whisper to the other, “I know she’s really Ariel…even her bangs swoop like hers!” No matter what I said or did, they still believed I was her. After the ride, they gave me giant bear hugs and yelled, “Bye Ariel!” That’s stuck with me…you never know who’s watching you or how your actions could affect others, especially little kids. Now, as I am pursuing a career as a recording artist, I know I have people of all ages watching me online, waiting to see what I do or say next. In the same way that a Disney Princess is expected to be a role model, so are musicians today. I’m not saying I am a role model, good or otherwise, but regardless of whether I want young kids to look up to me or not, there is an expectation there that I need to be aware of. I feel an accountability towards being someone that influences people positively…and I hope I am able to bring happiness and joy into people’s lives with my music, the same way I am able to bring it to little children performing as fairytale characters in costume.
And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Well first off, don’t let anyone get you down for having a passion for this wonderful hobby. I’ve run into plenty of people that just do not ‘get’ or respect the artistry of mermaiding or cosplay. I’ve been accused of ‘not growing up’ and having a ‘silly obsession.’ These individuals clearly lack tact, and the ability to accept of things they do not understand. (I also think they lack imagination!) God gave us all talents, abilities and affinities towards different things, some less mainstream (no pun intended!) than others, but the fact that a demographic of people refuses to accept or validate our shared interest for mermaid activities doesn’t mean it’s any less wonderful! Only that they choose to remain ignorant to something that is a lot of fun! So please don’t let anyone bully you into hiding or refraining from pursuing your passion. The more we share what we love about this awesome hobby, the more people will start to see that it is a really fantastic pastime!
Second is to start creating a costume! Let your imagination be your guide, and either create a tail for yourself, or commission one from a tailmaker. Once you have your fins you can start making magic! Whether it’s designing photo shoots around your costume, swimming in the ocean, attending events to entertain people as a mermaid, or like a few mermaids I admire, such as Hannah Fraser, use your costume and creativity to support worthy causes (often in relation to marine life, and our oceans!). I love attending nonprofit events as characters for a cause, and of course enjoy photo/video shoots in mermaid fins! Find out what makes you unqiue in your mermaid realm, and go after it! I do love to swim, but I think my focal mermaid attribute is my singing voice. I love singing as a siren of the sea!