Fish or Fantasy? Entertainer or Ecologist? And what about that ban on Mermaid tails in Edmonton? Discover the secrets of a professional mermaid in this exclusive interview with Stephanie Brown, also known as Raina Mermaid, from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
1. One of the kids in our neighbourhood says that his preschool teacher is a Mermaid. I think he means you! Do you really work as a “teacher by day, Mermaid by night?”
I’m actually a mermaid more than anything else but I have a degree in child and youth development and a degree in elementary education. I started picking up daycare subbing and some part time work for an after school program to help make ends meet.
2. What does a Mermaid do?
In one week I could be doing anywhere from 3-10 individual events, or I could have a contract where I’m spending multiple days in my fins. I also attend professional development, and have to hit the gym so I can stay in shape for all the swimming. Plus, I have a lot of administrative work. I’ve published two books and occasionally get to go to conventions because of them.
3. What’s the best part of your job as a Mermaid?
The best part for me is knowing I am making a difference for kids, empowering them to help the environment. I perform, I educate, get cool experiences… I also get to be my own boss. It’s mermazing.
4. And the hardest part?
We’ve coined the term #mermaidproblems and they include anything from blisters from long swim gigs, chasing down late payments, having to pee really bad after you’ve just spent 15 minutes putting on this giant heavy rubber suit…
5. In some of your recent posts and interviews, you mention chronic pain and illness. Can you tell me more about that?
Most people are surprised when they see me having moments where I am frail on land because I am so empowered in the water. I have interstitial cystitis, endometriosis, fibromyalgia and scoliosis. My immune system isn’t the best so I get sick very easily and I struggle with intense chronic pain. The nice thing is that being in the water and all the exercise I get really helps me control pain levels and stay healthy. I also have a great physiotherapist.
6. So being a Mermaid helps with your condition?
Being in the water helps relieve a lot of my pain. My legs and hips hurt a lot on land but feel great in the water. It also keeps me fit. We do a lot of charity work for sick kids too which inspired me to keep going. When I was a kid, Make a Wish sent me to Disney, and now I get to volunteer for Make a Wish. It comes full circle.
7. Recently, there was a ban in Edmonton on Mermaid tails. Why would anyone want to stop mermaids?
I feel the media has greatly exaggerated the issue and that the response has been a bit over the top. There have never been any recorded incidents of drowning related to mermaid tails or monofins. My wish is that Edmonton would find a compromise by having things like a swim test where a child has to demonstrate to a lifeguard their skills, and show that they know how to use the emergency release button on their tail.
8. So swimming in a monofin isn’t dangerous?
Hockey is dangerous – it has harmed more people in a month than mermaid swimming has harmed in its lifetime – but we still let kids play hockey so long as we take appropriate safety measures and only allow them to do things within their skill level. This is the same thing. Mermaid swimming with a tail or monofin can burn up to 500 calories an hour which seriously helps the child obesity rates. It’s also very empowering.
9. Has there been any resistance to Mermaids in Halifax?
When I first started people didn’t really ‘get’ it. They’d always ask me if I could walk! But it picked up steam faster than I could blink and my girls and I have been in non-stop demand for years now. We’ve never been banned from anywhere but we also have excellent insurance, training, and we have great communication with venues and lifeguards.
10. OK. So there are Mermaids all OVER the world?
Yup. Thousands and Thousands. There’s more mermaids in some cities in the USA than we have in all of Canada. It’s become standard to have a mermaid entertainer at most aquariums in the USA, there are mermaid bars where you can go and see them swim in a tank. Then there are companies like ours that do kids parties and environmental outreach. A famous mermaid just gave a Ted talk, and there’s been a lot of interest in professional mermaids for TV spots.
11. You started Canadian Mermaids. Are you like, a chief Mermaid?
Halifax Mermaids is our local business; Canadian Mermaids Inc. is our national business. I’ve carved out a niche for myself by trying to raise professional standards, accountability, and liability in the community. I also help other companies become more developmentally appropriate for kids.
11. Is there a Mermaid philosophy or code of conduct?
There’s no universal code for mermaids but I will say that most mermaid performers and many mermaid enthusiasts have a deep connection to the ocean and a wish to protect it. Ecological work just seems to go hand and fin with a mermaid tail. I don’t know many mermaids who don’t volunteer loads of time to ecological and childhood causes.
12. Are there any BAD Mermaids?
The mythology of mermaids is very vast and the stories are pretty split down the middle. Mermaids are either a serious force to be reckoned with, or they’re goddesses of fertility, water, and life. The Russian mermaid might take your kids away from you if they go swimming on her special day, but the African mermaid goddess will bless you with fertility and prosperity.
13. And what about MALE mermaids? I find them kind of fishy.
Sexism is a real issue in the mermaid community as mermaids are typically seen and portrayed as women, and so men are usually met with suspicion. But the truth is: men get into mermaid tails the same reason why the girls do: because they love to swim, love the ocean, want to help the environment, and make a difference for kids.
14. My six year old wants to be a Mermaid. What should I tell her?
First she’s gotta eat all her veggies because mermaids need fuel for all that swimming. Next she should make sure she’s comfortable in the water and can swim reasonably well. She should try the dolphin kick and when she gets it down- give a children’s monofin a try: In shallow water with adequate supervision do the ‘worm’ under water by undulating your core with your arms outstretched. Once she’s got the monofin down you can try a simple fabric tail over top. When she’s 18, she can come audition for me!
15. Are you a REAL Mermaid?
“I think I’m real…” (Raina touches her arms and tail)… “yeah I’m definitely not imaginary!”
16. What’s next for Halifax Mermaids?
We just won a small business grant. We’ve expanded our team, added more tails, added more packages… and we’re working on getting a tank, so we can travel. We’ve also got some huge top secret things in the works that I’m not able to publicly talk about yet… but all I can say is that it’ll make a huge splash!