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
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!