Mermaiding, sometimes artistic mermaiding, water ballet, mermaidry, or artistic mermaid performance, is the practice of performing dolphin kicks and other undulated movements underwater while bound by a costume mermaid tail, typically for a live, filmed, or photographed production, or for recreation. Mermaids are usually referred to simply as "mermaids," "professional mermaids," "mers," or occasionally, "water ballerinas." Tailmaking is usually seen as a separate counterpart to the mermaiding world.
Mermaid performance began with roadside attractions in Florida, most famously the Weeki Wachee Mermaid Show, and enjoyed the height of its original success in the 1940s American South. Of countless mermaid shows that once existed, only Weeki Wachee continues to operate in the same way it did when it was started, though Florida's Wreck Bar still features mermaid shows.
The launch of Walt Disney World employed a shoreful of mermaids to wave to passers by and promote the new park. Films like Bride of Frankenstein briefly employed tails, and the development of synchronized swimming became a major influence on many modern mermaids.
Though not directly connected to the modern mermaiding community, Australian swimming star Annette Kellerman is generally thought of as the mother of synchronized swimming and water ballet. The title of a 1952 musical film about her life, Million Dollar Mermaid, plays on the mermaid motif.
With the 1984 motion picture Splash, mermaiding caught the popular culture wave. Splash tailmaker Thom Shouse's website offered tails for a fee, but also inspired a DIY movement.(The Splash Mermaid was designed and created by the Academy award-winning visual effects artist Robert Short. Shouse was the project foreman on Short's mermaid crew.) The early 2000s saw many performers and artists of varying ages, genders, body shapes, and ethnicities uploading videos and photographs of tails and underwater performances to YouTube and personal websites. By the beginning of the 2010s, websites dedicated to mermaiding helped to create a distinct subculture in which members ranged from hobbyists to professional performers. Today, many mermaid performers work at aquariums, casinos, or tourist attractions professionally. Some freedivers wear mermaid tails to add novelty to the water sport.
Though professional mermaids often have their costume tails professionally made for them out of latex or silicone, many mermaids make their own tails out of more easily accessible materials for personal use. The most common construction involves creating a sleeve to fit around a monofin. The monofin provides support for the main "fin" of the tail, which is used to kick while swimming. The sleeve most commonly is made from spandex, neoprin, or neoprene.
A common practice among professional mermaids is environmental and individualist advocacy. Many mermaids speak out, create internet campaigns, and work with major environmental or self-help organizations. Susan Rockefeller's 2012 short-form documentary Mission of Mermaids: A Love Letter to the Ocean employs several professional mermaids from around the world to shed light on ocean acidification, overfishing, and marine pollution.
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