Today we travel to England for a chat with Mermaid Ondine of Merlesque Mermaids. Merlesque also includes Mermaid Lorelei and Mermaid Melusine, and they each bring their unique talents to the group. Let's give Mermaid Ondine a warm welcome! And, after the interview, I have a music video to share with you from another UK resident.
Cynthia: Thank you for the chance to chat with you today! Please tell us a little about yourself, Ondine.
Ondine: My name is Mairead Kelly, a.k.a. Mermaid Ondine (upper right in photo). I grew up in Kent, England, and went on to study at Cambridge University - I loved the town, so I stayed. Now I work as an accountant by day, and a professional mermaid by night.
Cynthia: How did you come to found Merlesque?
Ondine: I met Frankie (a.k.a. Mermaid Lorelei - lower right in photo) at Cambridge University where we both studied Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic. After graduating, we stayed in touch and met Demelza (a.k.a. Mermaid Melusine - on left in photo). The inspiration for Merlesque came from Demelza. She's always had a fascination with mermaids, and when she studied art at university her final project centered around depictions of mermaids in different cultures. Through her research for the project she came across international mermaid performers like Hannah Fraser, and she pointed out to us that there was a real gap in the market for mermaids in the UK. She didn't have to work hard to persuade us - Frankie and I were completely enchanted with the idea, and so Merlesque was born!
Merlesque was quite a long time in incubation; it was over a year from our first meeting to our first gig. We took a lot of time to do masses of research on professional mermaids first - everything from finding out more about monofins to looking into the best aquarium-safe glue for costumes. With the exception of our swimming tails, we make all our costumes ourselves, so there was a lot of sequin-sewing to be done before we were ready to launch. We also spent plenty of time training ourselves to swim in monofins - we've definitely surprised a few people at the pool!
I've always loved swimming - when I was a child, whenever we went on holiday somewhere warm with a pool, I was always the last one out of the water, no matter how wrinkly it made me! I got back into swimming a couple of years ago when I was suffering from a pituitary tumor that affected my heart - basically my heart rate was constantly really fast so I could only do the most gentle exercise, which meant that I got into swimming again. After having had my first surgery, I'd been able to be more active and took up dancing, so swimming had fallen by the wayside a little - but the idea of learning to swim as a professional mermaid and performing underwater definitely appealed to me. It was a completely new type of challenge.
Cynthia: What's it like being a professional mermaid in the UK? What kind of performances do you participate in?
Ondine: Inevitably, being a professional mermaid in the UK is different to working somewhere hot and sunny like Florida or Australia - the climate is definitely more of a challenge here. There are a few other professional mermaids who are active in England and around the UK, but it's far less common than in the US. One of our mermaids, Frankie, has done a photo shoot on an English beach at sunrise - the photos are beautiful but she was freezing cold the whole time!
Although we do travel internationally to sunnier climes, we've also developed some indoor and non-water-based acts for Merlesque in the UK, to work around the weather - our acts range from providing atmosphere at a burlesque night, to a musical act, to mermaid-themed kids parties both in and out of swimming pools. We're currently working on yet more acts and we're hoping to have mermaid fire performance, aerial performance and a cabaret act launching in the near future.
Ondine: Working with kids is always magical - they're so amazed to see a real mermaid! We do kids' parties both in swimming pools and on land, and of course we also tend to attract a lot of attention from children at family events. It's great to ignite their curiosity and answer their questions about life under the sea.
The excitement definitely manifests in different ways for different children; some just come up straight away for a chat, while others are more shy at first. There are all sorts of fun mermaidy games to play in swimming pools - mermaid races are always popular - and on land we can also run mermaid-themed craft activities, face-painting, and even give kids the chance to dress up as a real mermaid and have their photo taken. We also work alongside other performance companies, so we can even arrange for circus performers or other children's entertainers to perform alongside our mermaids.
I also think that swimming alongside a mermaid, even in a shallow paddling pool, is a brilliant way for kids who are less confident in the water to come to see swimming as something fun and exciting.
Ondine: Adults are often just as excited as kids to see a real-life mermaid! When performing at events, the Merlesque mermaids always provide a hugely popular photo opportunity - everyone wants to get their picture taken with a mermaid, and frequently to ask us a few strange questions as well. We've performed at all sorts of different events for grown-ups, from appearing in a bathtub full of glitter at a stately home, to serving drinks and cheeky mermaid limericks at a burlesque and cabaret supper club.
Cynthia: Other than performing, what's involved in being a professional mermaid?
Ondine: A lot of work goes on behind the scenes that people don't necessarily see! For instance, costume-making; we have different costumes for land-based gigs and swimming gigs, and although we buy our swimming tails, everything else is hand-made by our mermaids, from our glittery land tails to our shell-encrusted tiaras. We're always working on developing new acts, arranging photo shoots or filming, and planning for the future of Merlesque.
Cynthia: Do you enjoy working as a group?
Ondine: I think working as a trio is a real advantage; it gives us increased availability for gigs, and we also each bring different areas of expertise to the company; for instance, Demelza is our graphics whiz, while Frankie has experience of running other performance companies, which comes in very useful. Fortunately we get along well and we always enjoy working together at gigs.
Cynthia: What do you enjoy doing when you are not mermaiding?
Ondine: We're all pretty busy outside our work with Merlesque! Frankie/Mermaid Lorelei is a professional aerialist and performer, and Demelza/Mermaid Melusince is a professional belly dancer. I'm currently studying for my final exams to qualify as a chartered accountant, as well as working as an accountant. I also run the Merlesque Twitter account, which features a lot of very bad mermaid puns ("Did you hear about the mermaid with a transparent tail? It was a sheer fluke"), so even when I'm not mermaiding I'm usually racking my brains trying to think of more jokes for the account (any suggestions are gratefully received!).
Cynthia: What else you would like to share with us?
Ondine: We're really excited to be expanding mermaid performance as an act in the UK! We'd love to hear from any of your readers, especially other mermaid fans in the UK, so please do get in touch through Facebook or Twitter (@GrumpyMermaid) or via our web site.
Cynthia: Thank you very much, Ondine. Best wishes to you and Merlesque for many more years of mermaid fun!
Siren, a Music Video
Tanya Seifert is a singer and songwriter who loves mermaids and all things mystical. She has recently released her latest music video entitled Siren. In it, she is a seductive mermaid that lures men to their demise. This is the darker side of mermaid lore.
The music video can be found on YouTube. Here are a few words from Tanya...
I am a singer from London, England. I have been singing for 8 years and write all my own songs. I've always been fascinated by myths and legends and love to incorporate them into my music. Mermaids are such beautiful and mystical creatures but people often forget that there is also a darker side to them... The Siren. She lures men to their demise with her voice and beauty and in my song 'Siren' she is also a metaphor for the femme fatal, a woman who uses her beauty and sweet words to manipulate men into giving them what she wants and then leaving them.
The song was written by me, produced by Sky Adams and features rapper Eek who speaks about the torment he willingly suffers at the hands of this beautiful siren. The video was directed and produced by Gavin and Zoe of Fry Films who captured the essence of the song perfectly and really brought it to life! I hope you enjoy watching it as much as we enjoyed making it.
Thank you for sharing your video with us, Tanya! You can connect with Tanya at Facebook and Twitter.
Best wishes and starfishes,
cynthia (at) goldmermaid.com