Archive | June, 2011

Caroline the Lake Murray Mermaid

27 Jun

Caroline the Lake Murray Mermaid is a lovely mermaid working out of Lake Murray Shores, South Carolina. I spoke with her a couple months ago… and just last week she got a job swimming at Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach for the summer, every day at 12, 4 and 8, and so you should obviously go there immediately to see her. If you are very lucky, I might post a follow-up interview with her to see what it’s like, swimming with stingrays and sharks and other gorgeously terrifying creatures, in a huge glass tank. In the meantime, you can visit her youtube channel for some mermaidly videos, after reading our delectable, yet slightly out-of-date, Q and A.

How long have you been a mermaid?
I have been a mermaid for two years now, but if you ask anyone in my family they’d tell you that I’ve always been a mermaid at heart. Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved the ocean and all it’s inhabitants. I was first introduced to mermaids when I saw Disney’s The Little Mermaid and from then on, I was hooked. Mermaids completely captured my imagination and strengthened my love all things aquatic. Whenever I went swimming, I’d pretend is was a mermaid and swim dolphin-kick style. In my later years, I found that I could swim faster when I swam that way. As a kid, I would wrap a long blanket around my legs, put on a belt so it stayed at my waist and tie the bottom to look like a mermaid’s fin, and crawl around the house in my ‘tail’ hahaha :) So pretty much, I’ve been been a mermaid my whole life.

What is the appeal of mermaids—and mermaiding—to you?
Oh gosh, everything! Hahaha :) When I first learned of mermaids, I fell in love with their entity. They’re the most magical and wonderful mythological creatures and I just can’t imagine our world without the impact of their stories. They are the bridge between humans and the aquatic world that covers the majority of Earth. I’m so jealous that they can swim along the most unique and powerful creatures on this planet all day long. I swear, if I had a set of gills, I’d be underwater 24/7! Being able to ‘be’ a mermaid has brought me the most joy I’ve ever experienced.

What is it like, working as a mermaid? Can you tell me about some of the events you’ve done?
It is THE most satisfying job I could have ever fathomed. I can’t express to you in words the way if feels when a child’s face lights up at seeing a real live mermaid, and getting to talk to her and swim with her. It’s simply incredible. Right now, all I’ve done are private kid’s parties, but I’m not complaining. I get to play mermaid games with the kids (like Fish, Fish, Mermaid and Diving for Treasure), and I crown the birthday girl with a handmade tiara of seashells making her an honorary mermaid. I’m working on making an appearance in the fountain in front of my local movie theater for the premier of the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, plus I’ve already been booked for two private parties in June and I’m planning a graduation trip to Jamaica for a week.

How has mermaiding affected your regular life?
It’s changed it completely (for the better though). At first, some of my ‘closest’ friends ridiculed me and stopped talking to me completely because they thought I was a nut. My real friends, however, stayed by my side and really supported me, especially when the news spread to the rest of the school. I was teased, taunted, all of the above, but I never let it get to me. The torments by my fellow students did dwindle though and people started to encourage me. The school newspaper did an article on me and I even got my own page in that year’s yearbook! It was pretty exciting for me. Today, I still get the occasional insult at school and on YouTube the hateful comments never cease, but like I said I haven’t ever let that slow me down. If anything, being a mermaid has raised my self-esteem to a level I had never had before. I’m not saying it’s made me cocky, just that I’m much more able to stand up for myself in a tasteful way and I don’t let what other people say/do bring me down, which is something that I’ve struggled to achieve my whole life.

How do people respond to you when you’re in your tail?
In a couple of different ways. Mostly, it’s your typical “Omg, there’s a mermaid!” that I get from the kids and at lot more adults then you would think, which I LOVE. I love giving that mystical moment to them. Occasionally while I’m at the local pool I get a “Where did you get that tail?” from the older kids and teens who know it’s not real. If there aren’t any little children around, I tell them about the How to make a swimmable mermaid tail video by Sasha and about Mermagica.com. Then on very rare occasions, I get a hater who thinks it’s fun to ruin the magic for the little kids. I’ve only had it happen once and I was able to convince the kids that he was in denial, but it was close. I’ll never be able to understand why some people feel the need to take that magical moment away from children. It just baffles me.

I understand you appear as the little mermaid and as the tropical mermaid. Can you tell me about these two characters?
Yes :) The Little Mermaid is obviously based off Disney’s Ariel. That’s my big kids party character and I love it. I’ll sing them a song or two from the movie and do my best to mimic her bubbly personality. The Tropical Mermaid, on the other fin (hahaha), is my mermaid persona. She’s got a very positive outlook, is quite energetic, loves to talk to children and teach them all about her world, and is a little flirtatious when she’s not around kids. She also loves to raise awareness about what humans are doing that hurt her and her friends in the water. She wants to teach children how to care for the oceans, lakes, and rivers so that they’ll still be there for centuries to come.

Where is Lake Murray? What does it mean to you to be the Lake Murray Mermaid? Are lake mermaids different from ocean ones?
Lake Murray is a man-made lake located near Columbia, South Carolina, and to be the Lake Murray Mermaid means the world to me. Its a great responsibility for me because I feel a duty to protect it from harm and to let people know how to prevent damage from being done. Lake Murray is a huge part of the culture here and everyone loves to enjoy it. It would be a shame if the aquatic life in it were to be destroyed. I don’t believe that lake mermaids are much different from ocean mermaids. The problems they face in their homes may be a bit a different, but we’re all after the same goal: To protect and heal our waters. We’re all mersisters at heart, whether we’re from fresh or saltwater. :)

I know you have some mixed feelings about mermaids’ growing popularity. Can you talk about this?
It’s complicated. I love that mermaid’s are growing in popularity because one: it’s great for business, two: its a great for true aspiring mermaids/mermen who have been afraid to dawn a tail, and three: it’s a great way to raise awareness about our fragile water systems. The only thing that unnerves me is that I think people will start becoming mermaids just because it’s popular, which will drown out the true mermaids who actually care about the responsibilities a mermaid has. One thing I can’t stand are people who do something or say something just because its cool and not because it truly expresses themselves. It just bothers a part of me deep down inside and it’s sad. They should go after they truly care about, not ‘what’s hot’ at the time.

What message are mermaids trying to send to the rest of us?
Quite a few I’d say. One of the main ones are that people need to start realizing what their doing/what damage has already been done to the oceans, lakes and rivers. Did you know that everyday things like fertilizers for your lawn can harm aquatic ecosystems near you? After rain, the chemicals in the fertilizers combine with the water and runoff into the waterways. When it makes its was into a river, lake, pond, etc., it can cause eutrophication (the formation of algae blooms) that literally suffocate and destroy the ecosystem by sucking up all the oxygen in the water. Not cool.

I think that mermaids are also trying to say that you should be true to yourself. Being a mermaid isn’t for everyone,but neither is being a doctor or a pilot or a construction worker. Do something with your life that you love doing and that will further individualize you as a person. I strongly believe that if every person did that, the world would be a better place. Not to mention, people would be so much happier with the life they were living! It’s so sad that people are put down for expressing themselves if it’s not considered ‘normal’. I know that if you do what you love anyway, everything other people say just won’t have an effect on you.

And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Try swimming in a monofin before you put on a tail. It’ll help you get the motion down and get used to your legs being tied together. On that note, NEVER swim alone when you’re in a tail or even in a monofin. People have drowned before doing this. Practice increasing your breath hold on LAND while you are lying down and never practice in the water. Its very dangerous. When you are ready to get a tail, make sure you don’t copy someone’s design or even mimic it. Be creative and make a statement! Your tail reflects you and it should set you apart from all the other mermaids out there. After you go swimming, always put a drop or two of rubbing alcohol in your ears!! I am currently roughing out the consequences of not doing this (it’s called a bad case of Swimmer’s Ear aka very very VERY painful). The alcohol will evaporate any water in your ears after a swim (p.s. don’t use q-tips either). Lastly, educate yourself on the issues about the oceans and other bodies of water. Its a good thing to be aware of as a mermaid because trust me, you will be asked about it at some point. I believe that’s all I have to offer on that subject other than to research other mermaids and learn our ways. Best of luck and happy splashes. :)

Pin-Up Artist Krysztof Nemeth Talks Mermaids

24 Jun

So debonair pin-up artist Krysztof Nemeth has a penchant for mermaids, as most debonair pin-up artists and in fact most people living in the world at large do, and so I asked him about mermaidliness generally. Krysztof has done pin-ups of all kinds, though, including pirates and roller derby girls and lady devils and librarians and nurses and witches and really, you name it. He has even done a pin-up of a mermaid authoress!

And you can buy all kinds of pin-up-py products at his online store.

AND, in addition to doing amazing pin-up art, Krysztof also put together (and plays the guitar in, and writes songs for) the exceptionally cool electro-noir-lounge Kansas City band The Latenight Callers, who just came out with this very awesome noir video. Please watch it immediately:
 


 
I know. I saw the band when I was in Kansas City a few months ago, and was blown away.
 
Here’s our mermaidly Q and A:

What is your attitude toward mermaids? And where do you feel that mermaids fit into the general pin-up panoply?
I adore Mermaids! I’ve drawn quite a few, actually; one of my most famous was for the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, in fact! I’d like to think that Mermaids are wonderful material for pin-up interpretation; as have many pin-up and fantasy artists before me. In fact, my next mermaid pin-up is going to be a totally bad-ass Pirate Mermaid! Yar!

Do you feel differently when drawing a mermaid than when drawing a regular human?
I do, actually! Probably my favorite thing to draw on a pin-up are legs and feet…parts that are decidedly NOT on a Mermaid. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t find the same kind of sensuality in the lines, curves, and delightful lower-half of these sultry sea-babes!

Can you explain to me what a Mermatrix is?
Ah, yes, The Mermatrix. The Mermatrix is a drawing I did a few years ago for an art show in Seattle. Her mythology (yes, every girl I draw has a fabulous back-story) is that she’s a naughty Daughter of Neptune who has a shiny, black tail, a starfish brazier, octopi holding her ponytails, and a severe Trident she uses to inflict her own brand of Deep Sea Sadism! I think she was actually last seen in the North Atlantic, utilizing a German U-Boat as her leviathanic lair…

What is the special allure and power of the Mermatrix, and does she differ from your average mermaid?
I think she appeals to the bad-boy sailor in all of us…perhaps the antithesis of the almost faerie-like enchantment of what most people think Mermaids to be. She’s definitely a representation of the fierceness, the unrelenting power of the sea…yet surely shares with her (nicer) sisters the magical power of ultimate unattainablity… and that’s definitely a huge source of her power!

Do you have any advice for aspiring mermatrices—and/or mermaids?
Oh, I’m not sure I could give any advice, knowing that I’m certainly one of those captivated travelers who would search for glimpses of these elusive creatures, from the tops of tall masts or the portholes of iron giants…but I certainly can ask for them to be what they are to the fullest, for this world needs that kind of magic.

Mermaid Photographer Susan Knight

23 Jun

So Susan Knight is a Hawaii-based photographer who specializes in ocean/underwater/mermaid photography, and she will even be the official photographer at the first annual MerCon/World Mermaid Awards this August in Las Vegas. Yours truly shall be in attendance (and on a panel or two) and you should obviously come, too. She will even be booking private underwater portrait sessions before and after the convention, and you can pre-book an appointment with her on her website. (Plus this fall she will be travelling on the mainland, doing mermaid portraits, with dates tba). Susan is also the photographer who famously caught mermaids reading books in the wild.

AND she has filmic evidence of their existence:
 

 
Here is some more of her photography, featuring Doreen Virtue (of Obsidian) and Dana Mermaid and some mysterious, nameless creatures of the sea:

Aren’t they lovely? Here is our Q AND A:

So how long have you been photographing mermaids and other underwater creatures?
I have been interested in water and the beauty of water for as long as I can remember. Even as a young girl in swim lessons. My photography has developed from a hobby began 20 years ago. The last 5 years has been about learning to do it under water. That is when I moved to Hawaii. This year, it seems the Mermaids are really showing themselves and if you spend as much time in the water as I do, you get to spend time with Mermaids too!

How did you start?
My venture into under water photography actually began with the gift of a small camera and an underwater housing from my husband who is also a photographer. I still remember the day he first showed me how to manipulate the camera settings manually. Each image was unique and vibrant. Then he asked “Now, don’t you feel like an artist?” And I did! It was an incredible epiphany. I also make artwork in Photoshop which is a very creative and fulfilling process for me. All my artwork begins with a photograph.

Can you tell me about some of your more interesting experiences?
Three examples come to mind.

I love exploring the coastline here. There are the most incredible sea caves and lava tubes. Some are quite deep and you can SCUBA and free dive back into them to explore. In the winter, the waves here can be huge. The swell was so crazy one particular day and the surge was pushing us back and forth in the cave. That is when I came upon a rare and exciting find. This image is in my “Mermaids for the World” Gallery, which raises money for ocean and kids charities. It is Dana Mermaid, the super smart local Mermaid that reads your books!

Whalesharks are my favorite and another rarity here. I have been incredibly lucky to swim with several. To me, they are the biggest Mermaids. The largest fish in the world with no teeth and the most amazing gentle manner. So much so that while I am photographing them, they will slowly move their huge tail to carefully steer around me. This one was about 25 ft long and stayed around for 45 minutes before disappearing into the deep.

One other time while doing a photoshoot, a pod of Hawaiian spinner dolphins swam around us and this one looked back at me with a knowing eye. I had just been hugged by a pod of dolphins. It was amazing.

How would you compare photographing mermaids to photographing regular humans?

As a photographer, my job is to capture the essence of the moment. We all have such amazing power and beauty inside of us. Many people are just disconnected from the water and are uncomfortable at first. For both regular type humans and Mermaids, connecting with them, being playful and encouraging is what makes the magic happen. Mermaids are especially sensitive and very aware of their bodies in the water. This is always a joy to capture on film. I just happen to be a Mermaid that loves my legs. I love to run. So I sometimes have my tail but mostly photograph other Mermaids and water folk wearing fins on my feet.

How would you explain the allure of mermaids?

They are deep and mysterious What’s not to love about them? They are connected to two worlds that are very different. Mermaids inspire us to be truly who we are. They bridge a perceived gap for land creatures back to the sea. I was amazed the day I learned this…there are places on earth with water and no life, but no where on this planet is there life without water. There is the same percentage of water in our bodies as there is ocean to land. It is who we are.

The sea nourishes and draws us to it. It is important to give back. I encourage all people to be mindful of our thoughts and actions. and send love to the sea. While it is important to be aware, acknowledge and take action on matters such as pollution and misuse, it is also important to focus on the beauty of the sea. To expand that consciousness. Then it becomes more and more of a reality. I believe there are more Mermaids showing themselves to bring us this important message. I appreciate all Mermaids. We have an unbounded love for the sea and all her creatures.

Do you have any advice for mermaid models?
Being comfortable in the water is very important. Having a deep love and connection with the water and within yourself is also key. That is the energy that the camera picks up. The lens loves passion, love, joy and excitement. Those things express to help create beautiful, timeless images. Images, which in turn inspire, and connect us all to water and to the ocean.

Also, be aware that special training is recommended. Take a freediving course. Learn the capabilities and physiology of the human body and your own body. Respect that. I recently took my second free diving class with two of my regular Mermaid playmates, so we can all be safe and have fun while we are creating. It has actually made a huge difference in the images we are now producing. We swim with dolphins, manta rays, fish and other large animals.

Any advice for other photographers trying to capture mermaids on film?
Yes. Patience. Go into the underwater world with respect and awe and you will find respect and awe. Be aware that how you are, your energy, reflects all around you. I often meditate before I swim. When I am laughing and silly and enjoying myself, that is when the dolphins come. That is when the Mermaids are most playful.

Sarah Porter’s Lost Voices

22 Jun

So recently USA Today did an article on mermaids surfacing as the next big thing and the recent “school of mermaid novels” being released. Among them is Sarah Porter‘s debut novel Lost Voices, which comes out July 4th and is the first in a trilogy of mermaid tales. It has one gorgeous cover featuring mermaid Malena Sharkey, whose interview you shall read here shortly, and the premise sounds awesome and spooky. I met Sarah the other night, and she was charming and cool and quirky and lives in Brooklyn with her husband. Below is her awesome book trailer, followed by our Q and A.
 
 

So can you tell me the basic premise of Lost Voices?
Well, the idea is that girls who are orphaned, abandoned, or abused—broken in some way—can renounce their humanity in a moment of despair. If they make that choice, they turn into mermaids. The mermaids sink ships in vengeance against the human world that hurt and rejected them. But Luce, the heroine, finds that even though she loves being a mermaid she can’t quite come to terms with murdering helpless people. On the other hand, she’s been terribly alone, and she’s deeply grateful to the mermaids for offering her acceptance and love. She’s caught between her humanity and her new mermaid nature, and she has to make some extremely difficult choices.

What inspired this particular story?
There were different sources: a crazy mermaid story I wrote in graduate school, and another mermaid story I made up with a friend. But as for the key idea—that mermaids are the lost girls of the sea—I just knew that had to be the way things work.

I’ve taught a lot in junior high schools and high schools. It reminded me of what a struggle it is at that age to understand who we are, and what our own humanity means. Once you learn everything humans are capable of, then how can you accept that you’re one of them? The mermaids think they’ve escaped from their humanity, but it gradually becomes clear that in many essential ways they haven’t. They’re both human and not-human at the same time. I think a lot of smart, thoughtful teenagers feel something of that: they have a sense of being part of the world around them, but also partly outside it, fundamentally different from other people.

What attracted you to mermaids?
I love the image of a divided nature: human vs. other, visible vs. secret and subaquatic, everyday vs. magic. If you only saw a mermaid as she was rising to the surface, you could think she was a human girl. Her tail is like the secret side of her personality, her hidden self, or the unconscious mind. That’s why my mermaids can’t take their tails out of the water for more than a few seconds: it’s hard to see or reveal those hidden aspects of ourselves for long!

Have you always been attracted to mermaids?
I’ve always been attracted to mythological, semi-human creatures, but maybe not mermaids specifically until pretty recently.

Why did you decide to set the book(s) in Alaska?
The first two volumes are set in Alaska. By the third book, though, most of the action has moved down to San Francisco Bay and the surrounding area; that’s the part I’m working on now.

I guess I’m attracted to rough, northern landscapes in general. I wanted somewhere bleak and lonely and stormy, and I wanted the tribe Luce joins to be fairly small and isolated from the rest of mermaid society. She can only know what they tell her, and it’s impossible for her to guess if there could be any alternative ways of being a mermaid. It increases the drama of Luce’s position, because she can’t just go off and find another tribe twenty miles down the coast.

Why do you think mermaid books—and mermaids generally—are so popular right now?
I really don’t know why this is happening now. Mermaids do symbolize the divided aspects of human nature, but that’s hardly something new. But I hope the mermaid craze will encourage people to become more conscious of the oceans and all the ecological problems affecting them!

Do you have any favorite mermaid books/art/films, etc? Any that inspired you at all?
They aren’t exactly mermaids, but The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley works with some of the same ideas as Lost Voices, though in an extremely moralistic Victorian way. And “The Little Mermaid” by Andersen is a touchstone, of course, especially for the second book in the trilogy, Waking Storms. There are some wonderfully strange old Russian and Czech film versions of that story, too. And I love all the risqué mermaid illustrations from that old French magazine, La Vie Parisienne: mermaids smoking cigarettes under ice rinks, mermaids dodging missiles. You can find them online, but you probably shouldn’t if you’re under eighteen.

And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
I honestly hope that none of your readers ever reach a place of such despair that they turn into mermaids—at least, into mermaids as I know them. But if you do become a mermaid, keep working on learning to master your voice, sing in your own way, and don’t forget that some of us on land still love you.

Bonus Post: “Mermaids of New York” Screening this very night!

16 Jun

I know, it is so much mermaidliness in one day your head is spinning.

Well, listen: filmmakers Lady Aye and Mica Scalin, whom I met with and interviewed some weeks back though I have still not transcribed said interview for your reading pleasure due to mermaid camps and general laziness (though a photo was captured of our glamorous mermaidly manicures on the night in question), are having a screening of their film THIS VERY NIGHT in Brooklyn. This film is called “Mermaids of New York” and started out as a documentary about the Coney Island Mermaid Parade and then evolved into larger portraits of some of the fascinating ladies involved. LIKE the before-mentioned Bambi, and the fabulous Dame Darcy. You can read more about the project here.

Tickets for the screening are available here. It will be held at Union Docs, at 322 Union Avenue at Maujer, in Brooklyn, tonight at 8pm.

Mica and Lady Aye will be screening the film at MerCon as well.

And here are two more of their upcoming events in New York:

On July 7, at 6:30pm, Mica and Lady Aye will be holding a Happy Hour Fundraiser (a fundraiser to get them to MerCon) at R-Bar, New York, NY

And on July 21, at 8pm they will be hosting the awesome panel Sirens and Society: Post-Modern Mermaidia at Observatory, in Brooklyn, NY.

And here, finally, is a lovely promo video for the film:

Isn’t it beautiful?

Soon I will become unlazy enough to feature a riveting interview with these ladies on this very blog, so just you wait.

Mwah!

Coney Island Mermaid Parade Founder Dick Zigun

16 Jun

So as I’m sure you realize, this Saturday is the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade, where thousands of people show up dressed like mermaids and parade through Coney Island. Some weeks ago I interviewed parade star Bambi the Mermaid, at which point I’m sure you began preparing your costume in earnest, if you hadn’t already. Yours truly shall be participating as a JUDGE, so please do not disappoint me. Thank you. After, there is a Mermaid Parade Ball in which, among other things, several mermaids, including Ms. Bambi, shall be swimming in the Coney Island Aquarium.

The founder of the parade, which began in 1983, is one Dick Zigun, who also marches in it every year. Our illuminating Q and A is below.

So how and when did the Mermaid Parade begin?
In 1983 I went to the local police precinct and community board and asked for permission to hold an annual traditional 4th of July parade in Coney Island and was turned down due to that day already having a large crowd… So I decided to create an all new parade celebrating the summer solstice. As soon as we made up the name Mermaid Parade, even before the first parade took place, people were entertained and laughing since mermaids don’t have feet and can’t walk

Why mermaids?
I have an MFA from Yale School of Drama and very aware of mythology and various African and world culture celebrations of water gods around summer solstice. Also streets in Coney are named Mermaid and Neptune, and I did research into early events at Atlantic City and Coney around the turn of the century and found that mermaid costumes were popular.

How have you watched the parade grow and change over the years?
The Mermaid Parade has now surpassed 4th of July as number one business day and attendance day during the entire Coney Island season. I’m proud that many people who attend have no idea it is an event produced by a small non-profit… and I’m proud to have created an actual New York City holiday.

Why do you think it’s been so successful?
Because I am a serious artist who invents serious annual events and performing opportunities like the parade, our sideshow, and the neo burlesque movements that allow other artists to act out within a creative structure. The parade teaches mythology to local kids who live on Mermaid and Neptune avenues… It provides self esteem for people who work at Coney Island amusements and attractions and provides opportunities for NYC’s substantial arts community.

How can, and how do, people participate in the parade?

They register online at coneyisland.com and can compete as Best Mermaid, Best Neptune, Best Marching Group, and Best Homemade Float.

Do you yourself get dressed up and participate?
For 29 years I have led the parade dressed as The Mayor of Coney Island in an antique one piece wool bathing suit and a top hat, and wearing and banging my own large bass drum.

Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, fat or skinny, beautiful or ugly… If you have a fish tail, you are a mermaid!

Mermaid Camp at Weeki Wachee

16 Jun

So this weekend I attended MERMAID CAMP at Weeki Wachee, and I wrote the following extremely informative article about the experience, which you should obviously read immediately:

*Last Weekend I Went to Mermaid Camp*

Because I am very generous, I am including some extra photos here:

Here are all us campers in mermaid garb:

And one of me in a rather odd yet deeply glamorous mermaid pose:

And here are us campers and former mermaids after a day of swimming with a manatee:

And my hostess, Weeki Wachee artist-in-residence Julie Komenda:

And here is camper Jaclyn with our manatee best friend:

Also, a couple days after camp Ms. Barbara Wynns took me out to Three Sisters Spring in Crystal River for more mermaidliness and manatees. Here’s a shot of the two of us under water:

And here is me trying to pose in a semi-elegant manner and also not drown:

The end.

“Former” Weeki Wachee Mermaid Barbara Wynns

8 Jun

So I met the very amazing 61-year-old Barbara Wynns, former Weeki Wachee Springs mermaid and unofficial head of the “former” mermaids performing at Weeki now, back in January as well. Barbara is the head of the Sirens of the Deep mermaid camp. She’s a world-class diver who dives all over the world, and she lives in a beautiful Weeki Wachee riverhouse that’s filled with Weeki Wachee artifacts (much of which she’s saving to put in a future museum at the park) and other mermaid wonders. And when she took me on a tour of the house and I exclaimed over a giant Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid poster she had hanging on one guest bedroom wall, she promptly took the poster down, rolled it up, and insisted I take it home with me. In person, Barbara is just like that. She’s completely radiant, luminous, sweet sweet sweet, and full of energy. She really puts your average somewhat lazy authoress to shame.

Here are some photos of Barbara from back in the day.

And here is one of her now, performing.

Photo by Andrew Brusso

Our Q and A follows.

When and how did you become a Weeki Wachee mermaid?
I am a Floridian, and always swam in the springs of Central Florida. I knew when I was 7 years old I was going to be a mermaid. Yeah right, you say! Me too, but when I first saw the show at Weeki Wachee UNDER WATER FOLLIES in 1963, when I was 13, my fate was sealed. The mermaids were walking on tight ropes, riding surreys, eating and drinking, and performing great ballet suspended in the this beautiful clear spring. I was like, oh my gosh you can get paid to do that? I made up my mind then that I wasn’t going to college, wasn’t going to get married, I was going to be a Weeki Wachee mermaid.

I was hired on Thanksgiving Day in 1966, my senior year of high school, and trained on the weekends after the 1st of the year in 1967. I moved to Weeki the day after I graduated from high school, and swam from ’67 to ’69, ’72 to ’75. And I’ve been performing since 1997 as a former mermaid. It has been my identity all of my life. Once a mermaid always a mermaid!

What do you remember about wanting to be a mermaid at age 7? Had you heard folk tales, or seen movies, or heard about Weeki Wachee, etc?
We had an orange set of children’s books with the little mermaid in there. So I am sure that is where it came from, but my epiphany came when I was lying in/under the shade of an old boat in our neighbors’ yard. It was a really hot summer day. I was daydreaming, and I saw clearly I was going to be a mermaid, and not a cartoon character one, a real one. I just saw it clearly.

How would you describe the appeal of mermaids to ordinary humans?
Not always sure of appeal, because not all myths of mermaids are of beautiful women. In some countries they are seals, in some stories they are evil sirens. What I do know it there are a lot of land locked merspririts out there. And when they do experience water, or connections to like souls, it’s like remembering your best friend from long ago.

Why did you return to Weeki Wachee in 1997 after such a long time away? Was it a challenge, coming back?
No challenge, and absolute gift, a blessing. I had been saying every day since I left Weeki in 1975, God if you would just let me in the springs just one more time. I actually lived in Virginia, but am blessed with a river home on the Weeki Wachee river. I came in on the eve before the girls were going in to try out to be in the reunion show. I was going through the mail that comes to this address. The letter read do you want to get in the springs and perform for the 50th mermaid reunion. I was so nervous tapping in the phone number on the phone, afraid I would miss a number to respond. The other part of the story is a little long. I had a hurt rib, so even though I went to the audition the next day, I couldn’t get in, because I could hardly breathe. I was so close, yet so far. Had to go back to my home in Virginia for about three weeks. One of the girls, the one in charger, was an angel and save me a five-second part in the show. There were 26 girls that got to put on the show for the reunion. We were such a hit doing it at our age, they kept having us back. We are now performing for 14 years, and we are down to ten, know we are blessed performing Weeki Wachee mermaid alumni.

I understand you have nurtured other landlocked merspirits. How do you do this? What do you teach them?
Before the state bought the park, I was again blessed by being a big part of the park. I had a key, I supported those in charge. Since I am a Master Diver, Instructor I was able to put some people on the air hose. I got to share the springs with some Alumni that would pass through for the day. I just know what it means to know you are a merperson, whether you get to get in the water or not. There is only one Weeki Wachee, so whenever I can, whether they get in the springs or not, I honor the knowledge of what others feel about mermaids, whether to enjoy them , or feel like they are one. I take it very seriously. I just honor all that I meet, and share as much as I can.

Can you tell me about the Sirens of the Deep mermaid camp?
Since we have been back at Weeki as older women, more than once I have heard women say they would love to be a mermaid, even for just one day. I personally have always thought an adult camp, like the ones we’d always had for the ages of 7-15, would go over big…..now that we are a state park, there is what we call the Friends of Weeki Wachee. We are non profit. Since my pod of mermaids are volunteer we are now a part of the CSO, which is the short for FRIENDS GROUP. Any kind of event we are in, the money can stay in the park, instead of going to a big state account. The mermaid camp is a way of making money that stays in the park. We do it for two days. We take your picture dry in a tail, then the rest of the camp is you in a tail, or not, but in the springs learning ballet etc. On Sunday you get to be in front of the windows in your tail or not for your family. We give out certificates and of course there are lots of pictures. It was a success last year. We have made some lasting mersisters.

Were you at Weeki Wachee when Paris Hilton was there, or Andrew Zimmern, or any other celebrities who wanted to become temporary mermaids? Can you tell me about those experiences?
I actually safetied for Paris. She and Nicole Richie did a great job. They held their own. Did what was asked. I’ve been a part of a lot of celebrities there. It’s great that these folks recognize Weeki Wachee, share it with the world and get to experience it. Vicki met and swam for Elvis.

What has been your favorite thing about being a Weeki Wachee mermaid?
My whole being loves being a Weeki Wachee mermaid. As far as the physical experience, there aren’t the words. We are suspended in midwater, with only a tube for air. It is 74 degrees, crystal clear, blue water. We are in the heart of mother earth, our life force being water and air. I get to swim and hug turtles and manatees. I don’t know how to express it…. it is heaven to me.

“Former” Weeki Wachee Mermaid Vicki Smith

7 Jun

So in yesterday’s interview, when Weeki-Wachee-mermaid-camp-attending bellydancer Kristal Mize talked about how she wants “to still be swimming as a mermaid when I’m in my 70′s just like Vicki!” you might have wondered who this mysterious Vicki character is and if she in fact really exists. She does. Kristal was referring to the very extraordinary 71-year-old Vicki Smith, the oldest still-performing mermaid at Weeki Wachee Springs. Vicki is one of the “Formers” at Weeki Wachee, the older mermaids who were first reunited in 1997 for the park’s 50th anniversary (it opened in 1947, for those of you less mathematically inclined) and have been performing once a month ever since. The formers also run the “Sirens of the Deep” mermaid camp that yours truly is attending this weekend (and that raises funds for the Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, a non-profit citizens support group whose mission is to promote the use, preservation and enhancement of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park). That is how awesome they are. The head of these former mermaids, by the way, is the fabulous Barbara Wynns, and I will have an interview of her up tomorrow. Because I feel it that this should be WEEKI WACHEE WEEK! At least on this blog, not to mention in all of our deepest hearts.

Weeki Wachee was, by the way, just featured on the Today Show this past weekend.

Anyway, I met Vicki back in January for lunch, and she is completely charming, dainty, and delicate, totally beautiful, tiny tiny, and she speaks with a lilting Southern accent. She had bright blue toenails and a mermaid tattooed on her ankle (her 70th birthday gift to herself! And for her 71st last fall? She went skydiving and loved it so much she’s been back at least once since). And she performed for ELVIS, back in 1960.

Here we are together at said lunch:

And here is Vicki back in the day, when she was first performing at Weeki Wachee:

I saw Vicki again last month when I was at the Pier Aquarium and she and her daughter came. Here we are:

Aren’t they beautiful?

So back to January: it was amazing, hearing Vicki speak about Weeki and her love of its crystal water. She told me how after she left Weeki in the early 60s and until she returned decades later, she never spoke about her time as mermaid, but she dreamed about it, and now, when she gets into that water, suspended and without gravity, she feels exactly as if she were 17 again and stepping into it for the first time. She talked about the way the light hits the water and streams through it, and how when you’re in the “deep hole” down at the bottom of the spring and the light hits just right, “you feel like you’ve been blessed.” She said many more things besides, very beautifully and movingly (as did Barbara Wynns, whom I met later that day at her mermaid-filled riverhouse) and that is why yours truly is now writing a novel about some Weeki ladies.

But more on that another time.

Here is our Q and A.

When and how did you become a Weeki Wachee mermaid?
Back in 1957, in Brooksville, Florida, where I lived, when you graduated from high school, you either got married, went off to school… or you became a Weeki Wachee Mermaid! I graduated from high school on June 5, 1957, and began my training as a Weeki Wachee Mermaid on July 7, 1957. Swam my first show that same day. I became a mermaid because my best friend, Elsie Jean Wernicke, was a mermaid and encouraged me to try out. She was my trainer and we remained very close until her death in 2009.

How did becoming a mermaid change you – and how does it affect your life still?
Having been raised around Weeki Wachee Spring and its mermaids, becoming a mermaid was no big deal for me but when you are 17 and you start getting fan mail, getting your picture in newspapers nationally, people asking for your autograph…well, it gets to be a lot of fun! I never thought of myself as beautiful or talented but becoming a mermaid at Weeki made me feel like I was! I appeared in movie premieres, spoke before audiences for Weeki, swam for celebrities that were in awe of our underwater talents. Even today, at 71 (that’s interesting… I started at 17 and now I’m 71!) even today the Former Mermaid group that I perform shows with once a month? We still awe people with our underwater talents. Not much youth and beauty in our shows, but a whole lot of heart and history!

How would you describe the appeal of mermaids to ordinary humans?
Mythical magic.

What is one of your favorite Weeki Wachee memories?
My favorite memory is not cutting the ribbon for the new million dollar theater with the Governor of the Florida in 1960, nor is it swimming for Elvis Presley in 1960. My favorite memory is being 17, sitting on the platform getting ready to dive into the Spring, seeing the pink azaleas in full bloom, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face then diving into that fluid aquamarine world of liquid diamonds. Today, I still feel blessed to experience this miracle of nature in its purest form.

What advice do you have for aspiring mermaids?
Go with the flow and never stop swimming!

Muse Fusion: Bellydancing Mermaids at Weeki Wachee’s Mermaid Camp

6 Jun

So please do not be too jealous, but tomorrow I am heading off to Weeki Wachee Springs to participate in next weekend’s Sirens of the Deep Mermaid Camp, led by some extremely fabulous former Weeki Wachee Mermaids. The camp is two days long and involves the passing on of many many mermaidly secrets, not to mention the getting-in of tails as well as the plunging-into of crystal-clear historic underwater mermaid theaters.

Recently a whole belly dance troupe, Muse Fusion, participated in mermaid camp, and so I figured I should talk to them. Not only because they went to the camp and survived it, thus making me feel somewhat reassured, but because they are bellydancing mermaids. I don’t think I need to elaborate on that.

Here are said bellydancers after their transformations, on dry land and in the water:

Muse Fusion members (from left to right) Jeniffer, Virginia, Luna and Kristal

The ladies transformed into mermaids

My Q and A with Muse Fusion director Luna and Muse Fusion member Kristal follows.

So what is Muse Fusion?

Luna: Muse Creative Fusion Dance is an international dance company providing unique performances for special events. Muse Fusion started out as a way to find creative freedom and expand on the opportunities that presented themselves. I’ve always had to make something out of nothing so when event planners didn’t know what to do with my work it seemed I had no choice but to create my own company so that I could have integrity and creative control over the work. When I started fire performance if the client didn’t see a visual of me doing it, I had to explain what it is as I was the only one performing my style of fire performance back then. Now with the addition of more performers and acts the best way I can describe it is, that Muse Fusion is a blend of Ancient Traditions and Modern Visions and we continue to evolve…We can’t just say we are belly dancers as our belly dance ranges from traditional to modern to theatrical..We are belly dancing mermaids. We can’t just say we are mermaids, we are fire belly dancing mermaids.

Kristal: Muse Fusion is the company that Luna founded. It’s a complete entertainment company. I get to belly dance, Latin Dance, spin fire, and swim with my friends. What’s better than that?

How/why did you all decide to go to Mermaid Camp at Weeki Wachee?

Kristal: Luna was looking at sending her daughter to the kid’s camp and said something about it. When I looked at the site, I saw that there was also an adult camp. Luna and I had performed together at kid’s parties before, but we really wanted to learn more from what we consider the source. I contacted [former mermaid] Barbara Wynns (who is amazing and wonderful) and set it up for us to go. Once I had all the applications in hand, I mailed them to Barbara, and we went to camp!

Luna: I loved Weeki Wachee as a child and wanted to give my daughter the experience of visiting the magical springs. When I saw they had an adult camp I jumped at the opportunity. I had experience as a mermaid model and then a mermaid performer for kid’s parties and corporate events so I thought mermaid camp would be a great way to learn from the source and maybe pick up a few skills that may come in use for my work. My daughter wants to attend next year.

Had any of you been to Weeki before?

Kristal: I went once with my grandparents as a child, and thought it was magical. I was right!

Luna: I went as a child and wanted so badly to jump in and swim with the mermaids. The springs are truly amazing.

Can you describe the camp experience?

Kristal: It really is magical. The water is freezing, but all of the women we learned from are amazing. I was lucky enough to have help from Dottie, Becky, Susie, and Lorelei in the water. It was physically challenging, and at times I had trouble fighting the current (which I wasn’t expecting), but all of the former mermaids were graceful and willing to share their wealth of knowledge, including tips for fighting the current. “Mer Queen” Barbara was great, as she was on the audience side of the theater, and used the underwater speakers to talk to us. Hearing the sound carry so clearly underwater was also a unique experience. I want to still be swimming as a mermaid when I’m in my 70′s just like Vickie! These women have become my mermaid heroes. I went the weekend after camp to watch their show, and they’re just as beautiful in the water as they are out of the water!

Luna: I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from the strong and talented women at the Sirens of the Deep Mermaid Camp. They are all so inspiring, encouraging, patient. I learned so much more than I had expected. The experience was physically challenging but well worth it. I will never forget seeing the springs underwater for the first time. I had no idea it was so deep and that it has a current..I’m embarrassed to admit I was a little scared at first. Being on the inside of the viewing windows was so fun and surreal. We got to learn both aqua ballet and mermaid swimming, which is very different than the mermaid swimming we were used to.

Would you recommend that others attend? If so, why?

Kristal: Of course! If you want to experience what it’s like to be a mermaid, even if you’ve never put on a tail before, go to camp! I learned a ridiculous amount of water ballet and mermaid tricks and poses. The experience of swimming in the spring alone is worth it.

Luna: I think whether you want to experience mermaid swimming and aqua ballet for the first time or are a pro it is well worth it to get in the spring and learn from some of the pioneers of the art form. Even if you want to get a different workout or check out the springs, this camp is a unique way to go about it.

So do you think bellydancing gave/gives you all a mermaidly advantage?

Kristal: Actually, that’s a yes and no answer. For poses, and ‘mermaid arms,’ a lot of bellydance moves can be used. For spins, turns, aqua ballet, and swimming tricks, no. Bellydance is mostly flowing, and you have to lock your arms and legs straight for the aqua ballet, turns and tricks, which goes against pretty much everything we do as bellydancers. The only other advantage we had was that we were lucky enough that one of our photographer friends, who photographed us performing at The Florida Renaissance Festival, was in Tampa capturing the Bay Area Renaissance Festival, and came to the springs on day two of camp to get pictures of us.

Luna: I took full advantage of belly dancing under water and adding that element to my mermaid character but when it came to the Aqua Ballet I had a real hard time not flowing my arms and belly or bending my knees. Also, I’d forget to point my toes but by the end of the first day our teachers fixed us up and got us to switch dance styles.

Will your time at camp affect your bellydancing at all?

Kristal: It inspired me to train more and get in better shape. I’m also a bellydance teacher, fire spinner, and I’m in the process of being certified to teach Hoopnotica Hoop Dance and Zumba. I’m spending my weeks training bellydance, Hoop Dance, Zumba and all the things I learned at mermaid camp twice a week, each, and still working my regular full time job. Plus, Luna came up with the Sea Sirens idea, which I’ll let her talk more about.

Luna: It inspired me to train more often in the water. Whenever I’m in the water I drill my belly dance moves anyway and now I have movement ideas I can use both in and out of the water. I have a Sea Siren show which is inspired by the stories of mermaids and sea sirens. We belly dance and incorporate flow movement arts and circus arts…now if only I could get a mermaid sized aquarium to bring along…

What do you think of mermaids, anyway? Have you always been susceptible to their allure?

Kristal: I’ve always thought mermaids were beautiful. I was obsessed with “The Little Mermaid” Disney movie when I was younger, and I still read mermaid fiction whenever possible. My favorite, other than your book, is MaryJanice Davidson’s Mermaid Series. Fred doesn’t fit the stereotypes that are expected of mermaids, and that’s why I love that series so much.

Luna: Mermaids are fun. I grew up in and around the waters of Florida and the Caribbean so pretending to be a mermaid was just one of the games I played as a child. Maybe I never grew up, or maybe their allure captured me and left me no choice but to join them.

Has your idea of mermaids changed since going to camp?

Kristal: Yes! I admire the training and dedication it takes to learn all the moves and perform them seamlessly. I want people to know, the mermaids at Weeki Wachee are TOUGH! The strength they have to perform the moves, go underwater and stay there (which isn’t as easy as it sounds), fight the current without appearing to, and the fact that the water is freezing, just makes me admire them all the more.

Luna: Yes! It’s so much harder than it looks. The mermaids at Weeki Wachie are tough, strong, beautiful! They only make it look easy. I look up to both former and the current mermaids at Weeki Wachee, my mermaid Muses.

And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?

Kristal: Don’t let anyone deter you from your dreams. A mermaid performer once told me I was “too fat” to be a mermaid, since I gained weight after having a blood clot and multiple pulmonary emboli. I almost let that hurt me, but decided I was lucky to be alive, and I can always lose weight. I have lost almost 30 pounds since being released to exercise again. It’s a slow process since my entire diet changed because of my medication, but I’d rather be alive and have to work at losing weight than the alternative. The other advice I would give is to train, practice swimming, especially the dolphin kick, and please, go to mermaid camp!

Luna: Mermaid camp is there for you to experience the magic of the springs and train with these amazing women. Years ago they had to train themselves and figure it out on their own after much trial and error. Now aspiring mermaids can just go to camp and try it out. Go to camp, train ballet, tread water, go swimming, free diving, yoga, read…immerse yourself in it, the more skills you have the better you can imagine in order to recreate yourself as a mermaid. Or aqua ballet dancer! Have fun and see what happens!

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