MerCon Recap: a more fin-clusive ocean for all

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The Dive Bar sign, on the outside of the building. A dark blue-green silhouette of a vertical mermaid with one arm stretched upward and the other downward, with her hair flowing down along the latter arm. She's positioned between the words Dive Bar.

Dive Bar Q&A:

The Dive Bar is a Sacramento landmark where visitors can experience a very spe-shell kind of dinner theater.  While guests enjoy their coastal cocktails and fish ‘n chips, a team of underwater performers dance, in full fins and flukes, in a 40-foot saltwater aquarium above the bar.  They’re closed this year, obviously, but I’m hoping this will be one of the first items I cross off my Literary Bucket List in the next few years.

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If you want to be a Dive Bar mer-former, be persistent in applying!  I mean, don’t be crab-noxious, but keep checking for openings!  You never know when a spot will suddenly pop up.

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You don’t need scuba or freediving certification (although it might set you ahead of the competition).  The tank isn’t that deep, and there are guards ready to dive in at any moment if a mer-former looks like they’re in trouble.

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I love this one:  You don’t need 20/20 vision to be a mer-former!  First, because the water is saline instead of chlorine, it won’t hurt your eyes the way swimming pools do, so no need for goggles.  But more importantly, many of the current mer-formers wear glasses or contacts on land, and one of the most important tricks they learn is how to act around their limits.

Water symbol from Avatar: the Last Airbender. A dark blue square surrounds a dark blue circle with three swirls at the top and three curving lines at the bottom.

Moving Beyond the Tail:  Working with Merfolk Archetypes and Water Magic

This was a discussion led by Una the Mermaid, a professional mer-former and oracle reader from Portland, Oregon.  As a scholar of Transpersonal Psychology, Una is particularly interested in the use of imaginative play to assist in healing and personal development.  The lecture focused on creative and responsible ways to use oceanic folklore in performances.

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Someone needs to write an undersea spinoff of Avatar: the Last Airbender — apparently, mer-beings can identify with all the elements, not just water.  Traits like  logic and practicality (Earth), imagination and intellect (Air), passion and courage (Fire) are just as natural to us water spirits as our fluidity and emotional sensitivity.

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Every positive trait can have a negative counterpart, though, and we need to be aware of those to practice responsible mermaiding.

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For example:  ZOMG THERE WAS A WHOLE SECTION ON SELKIES!!!  They represent traits like freedom and independence, but are also susceptible to loss of balance and falling under the control of other people and forces.

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I’m definitely going to look more deeply into the history of the Sámi people in the Orkney islands, and how their cultural practices may have inspired selkie stories.  I talked a bit about this in my Great Selkie Post, but there are even deeper connections than I realized.

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Responsible mermaiding means keeping a balance between one’s fictional persona and one’s Real World self — don’t get so caught up in your performance and imagination that you forget your “earthly” identity and responsibilities.

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Responsible mermaiding also means avoiding cultural appropriation — don’t take on a persona from someone else’s religion or mythology without, at the very least, a deep understanding of and respect for that figure’s history and implications.  And even then, it’s not the best idea.

Logo of the Society of Fat Mermaids. A purple outer circle surrounds a filled purple inner circle. In the center are the words Society of Fat Mermaids in white. At the top of the inner circle is a white seashell. There is a smaller, upside-down seashell under the society's name. To the left and right of the inner circle are a pair of large merfolk with their tails and left arms stretched toward each other.

The Society of Fat Mermaids

The Society was founded by DC burlesque performer Mermaid Chè Monique to encourage more diversity and body positivity in the merfolk industry.  As their About Page states, the Society is here to “[r]emind the world that FAT PEOPLE and FAT MERMAIDS are sexy, powerful, intelligent, capable, beautiful, free spirited, fun loving and worthy.”

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The panelists talked about owning your image — making sure the client is looking for YOU, SPECIFICALLY, and not just “a mermaid” (because sometimes people say they want “any mermaid” when they really mean “a stereotypical Disney-size mermaid”).

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They talked about using their work to inspire and empower kids who feel they, too, haven’t been represented enough in fantasy — children of color, for example, and children with disabilities.  We need to show ALL kids that there are princes and princesses and elves and fairies and merfolk who look like them.

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On that note, we need to inspire people to join the mer community even if they aren’t traditionally abled — if you’re not able to swim or be in water, for example, there are still plenty of ways to be a mer-former on land.

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And also, we need to represent merfolk of ALL genders — show that you don’t need to be a girl or woman to put on a tail, and that merfolk don’t need to have a stereotypically feminine aesthetic (or, I’d say, conversely, mermen aren’t required to have a stereotypical Aquaman aesthetic if that’s not their style)

Clip art of a photographer facing left, crouching down so they're sitting on one heel, with the other foot stretched forward. Both feet are covered in brown ankle boots with heels. The photographer is wearing a mustard-yellow tank top and blue jean shorts, and has a dark green messenger bag hanging against their back. Their dark brown hair is in a low messy bun.


Photo Shoots, Land and Sea

This panel was led by model Iara Mandyn and photographers Shannon Subers and Brett Stanley.  They described their techniques and offered advice for preparing (and also starring in) beachside or underwater portraits.

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In terms of modeling, all three panelists stressed the importance of getting comfortable and relaxed in/near the water.  Get in some practice beforehand.  Practice your poses and movements.  Take scuba and/or freediving lessons.  And have realistic expectations, especially if you’re working underwater — everything is about 10 times harder than on land.  Never push yourself or your model past their abilities or comfort level.

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For photographers, Subers recommended scouting out the locations in advance — know the conditions and possible hazards, see what the lighting and crowds are like at different times of day, etc.

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Check out this Airbnb article, which lists Subers’ San Diego photoshoots as one of the “10 Weird & Wonderful Experiences You Didn’t Know Existed on Airbnb” (this is the specific page for the photoshoot package).  See also her, Mandyn’s and Stanley’s Instagram pages for more examples of their work!  And listen to Stanley’s Underwater Podcast if you’re interested in learning more about the underwater portrait industry.
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Screenshot of Gabriella, from the Little Mermaid TV show. She has dark skin and shoulder-length dark brown hair. She has a coral pink top and tail, and she's standing next to a friendly blue octopus. The ocean behind her is dark pink, with silhouettes of undersea plants.

Representation

Like the Society of Fat Mermaids panel, this one also focused on increasing diversity in the merfolk industry.  It was led by Merman Jax of Dark Tide Productions.

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Their overall message was that the Mer world should be a safe escape from reality — a place where you can invent yourself, to express what’s inside, and to break away from typecasting and stereotyping.  It should be a place that brings everyone together.

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Did you know that Hans Christian Andersen’s “Little Mermaid” might have secretly been about the author’s unrequited love for a man?

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Did you know that the Broadway and other theatrical versions of Disney’s Little Mermaid have always been more diverse than the movie?  The casting of the upcoming live-action movie is really not that surprising, considering even the animated version was set in the Mediterranean, a very diverse region of the world.  And remember Gabriella, the mermaid of color who is also deaf, from the animated TV show?  In the episode “Wish Upon a Starfish,” she and Ariel learn to literally dance around their limitations.

And anyway, mermaids don’t have to conform to human stereotypes; they can be any color or ethnicity they want!

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Basically, anyone can be a mer-being, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or ability.

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Check out shops like Garnet Grotto, Valere Cove, and Mermaid and Mom for more gender-diverse, color-diverse, and age-diverse merfolk products!
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Video of MeduSirena performing pilot-inspired moves to Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone.”

MeduSirena Symposium

MeduSirena is basically the Avatar — she embodies all four elements, with experience as a pilot, as well as with Polynesian and Middle Eastern dance, fire-eating, and underwater performance.

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As an underwater performer, she’s more like Ocean Girl than a typical mermaid — she often works without a tail.  She even does that iconic backwards somersault!  Before the pandemic, she could be found at the Wreck Bar, which is basically Florida’s answer to the Dive Bar.

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Her piloting experience has inspired some of her underwater moves, such as back loops and barrel rolls, and, just like when she’s flying, she keeps her sense of balance by always looking in the direction of the move (ballerinas do this, too).

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Like the photo shoot panelists, MeduSirena stressed the importance of getting comfortable underwater before diving into a performance career.  Like Mermaid Una, she advised us to always be aware of our human natures, whether we’re in a tail or not — how do human bodies work underwater?  You can make your performance look totally magical and ethereal, but unlike the audience, you should never forget that you actually need to breathe once in a while.

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You can also find MeduSirena on Instagram and on her Patreon page (life hack:  Patreon is apparently an awesome back-up for performers who are out of work during the pandemic), where you can pay for access to extra videos, tutorials, behind-the-scenes footage, and “Bad SeaHag Art.”

Screenshot of the Bubble Guppies season 5 cast: from top left, there is a merboy with pale skin, red hair, and a green tail; a mergirl with pale skin, curly blond hair piled on top of her head in a triangle shape, and an orange tail; a mergirl with dark skin, a large purple bun piled on top of her head, and a pink tail; a mergirl with pale skin, purple hair in pigtails, and a purple tail. From bottom left: a mergirl with dark skin, long pink hair, and a blue tail; a merboy with pale skin, dark blue hair, and a green tail; and a merboy with dark skin, dark blue hair, and a blue tail with purple stripes.

Working with Kids

The final panel was led by Mermaid Raina, who offered her best advice for working with guppies.

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Raina has degrees in child development and education, but she also trains pilots by day, helping with military search and rescue (another Airbender!).

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Like Mermaid Una, Raina believes imagination increases resilience — it teaches children (and adults) to cope better with stress.  Think of some of your favorite de-stressing activities:  reading, watching movies, playing video games…it’s all about immersing yourself in another world to help you function better in the real one.

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Mermaid shows are also a great way to encourage kids’ passion for science and environmentalism (remember the Mermaid of Hilton Head, whom I mentioned in my Bucket List post?  Her shows focus on ocean-friendly behaviors and the humane treatment of animals — particularly dolphins).

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In terms of safety, Raina has several major recommendations:  hire extra help, such as lifeguards, so you don’t have to be both an entertainer and a babysitter.  Also, create a very specific set of rules for your clients — don’t just copy and paste waivers from other performers.  For example, insist that clients hire multiple merfolk for larger parties — a single mer-former shouldn’t be responsible for 50 kids.  I recommend looking at Mermaid Una’s Rates & Booking page for ideas.

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And definitely check out Raina’s website for more tutorials and resources for aspiring mer-formers!

GIF image of Neri, the main character from Ocean Girl, looking at the audience and swimming away. She is a teenage girl with pale skin and long, reddish hair, and she wears a white dress that looks like burlap, with a brown belt and a brown, leather-like patch on the left side of her back. She is swimming in a clear blue ocean.

So!  Have you attended any fun digital events this year?  Any you’re looking forward to?  Any conventions you wish had a yearlong digital component?

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Credits:

Featured Image:  MerCon Poster from their website.

“Neri Somersault” GIF from gfycat.

Photo of Dive Bar sign (cropped) from their website.

Water symbol from Clipart Library.

Society of Fat Mermaids logo from their website.

Photographer clip art from Clipart Library.

Screenshot of Gabriella, from the Little Mermaid TV show, from Disney Wiki.

Bubble Guppies cast from Nickelodeon Promos on Youtube.

Neri swimming GIF from gifer.

1/100th of an Altairian dollar for your thoughts?

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