Two mermaids glided through the water at the Casper Family Aquatic Center. They wore seashells in their hair, shell swimsuit tops and streaks of shimmery color across their eyelids and cheeks. Their shimmering scales glinted in the pool, and their smiles flashed as they introduced themselves to their students as sisters: Mermaid Melody and Mermaid Milana.
The two women, Faith Conaway and Dawn Anderson Coates, told the girls who’d just arrived for a new swimming class that they too would learn how to swim like a mermaid and create mermaid names.
The mermaid swimming classes are the latest expansion of Conaway’s theatrical business, Dream Upon a Princess, which employs actors to portray popular princesses and other characters for kids’ parties and events.
In the swimming classes, which Conaway started in June, participants enjoy the mermaid experience while learning swimming skills and water safety, Conaway said.
“Basically, our swim lessons are built around magic and creativity,” Conaway said. “It just adds to the swimming experience for the kids. It really just makes it really fun, and it gives them drive to really master their swimming skills.”
Becoming mermaids starts before Conaway and Anderson Coates arrive for class. They get in character as they craft their makeup and don their attire. The drive to the pool is valuable time for settling into the mindset as well.
“We usually have sister conversations with each other and use mermaid terminology and goofy things like that,” Conaway said. “It makes it more enjoyable for the kids; it really brings it to life.”
Conaway is a Casper College theater alumna and started Dream Upon a Princess as a way to use her training and talent to make a living in Casper. The mermaids are another character she and other actors portray as they lead activities.
Conaway researches the characters and trains the actors for all the Dream Upon a Princess activities. She started the venture a few years ago with a handful of friends portraying popular princess characters for parties and events. She’s since expanded into superheroes, villains and now mermaids, with a variety of actors she contracts by event.
Like the mermaid characters she portrays in the aquatic lessons, it’s not just showing up in costume.
She and the other actors must stay in character from the time they arrive until they leave, as they sing, entertain and visit with the children.
“There’s a difference between just standing there and singing a song versus really engaging the kids and getting them involved,” Conaway said. “And I think that this is actually a lot of improv performing, is what it is. I’ve have a lot of improv training, so I kind of knew at the beginning how to take this on. But I feel like I’m even better at improv now.”
Mermaids in training
It all started when Anderson Coates bought Conaway a basic mermaid tail for her birthday. The friends posted some photos on Facebook of themselves swimming in the tails and customers started requesting mermaids at parties.
“Then I started researching it in-depth, and I didn’t realize how much goes into it,” Conaway said. “I didn’t realize how expensive it can be. I didn’t realize how awesome it can be for children as far as learning to swim.”
Conaway and Anderson Coates are certified to teach people to be mermaids through Mermaid University.
That’s a real thing, Conaway said. The two also are lifeguard certified and are trained in first aid and CPR, she said.
The fancy fins they wore on the first day of the class cost about $1,000, weigh about 35 pounds when wet and are for special occasions like parties, Conaway said. They also require another person to zip them.
Mermaid swimming classes for children and adults have become a trend for fun, performances, swimming skills and fitness, she said. The classes are offered for different levels of swimming skill, and Conaway hopes to start mermaid swimming sessions for adults. It’s a great, low-impact workout, Conaway said.
The class last Tuesday started with going over the rules, including only swimming with an adult nearby, no running and no peeing in the pool, the mermaids explained to the new class.
Soon the girls were taking turns showing off their best swimming tricks. Some plunged below the surface, flipped underwater or turned upside down to raise their feet out of the water. The participants will learn real swimming skills, including floating, treading water and swimming half the pool length with a proper stroke, the instructors explained to the group.
They’ll also learn the dolphin kick, with their legs and ankles together, flipping along the top of the water, she said. That’s the basic mermaid move.
“And the hardest part about being a mermaid to get down is that technique of going through your body with that movement,” she said.
The instructors last week also taught the mermaids-in-training some facts and folklore. They learned that groups of mermaids are called pods. Anderson Coates also told them about the difference between mermaids, who play with fish and wave to sailors, and sirens, who sing and lure them into the rocks so their ships crash.
The leaders also told them about how litter can end up in harming water life.
“So that’s why we have to be careful with our gum wrappers and plastic bags and stuff like that, because we don’t want it to get into the water,” Anderson Coates said. “Because there is a two-mile lump of floating garbage in the Atlantic Ocean.”
“It’s true,” Conaway said. “I don’t like it at all.”
The instructors left the girls with homework to come up with mermaid names and ideas for a pod name, as well picking a favorite sea animal for a pet.
Mermaids can eventually learn tricks and synchronized swimming. Conaway never thought she’d be a mermaid, but it fits in perfectly with her love for performance.
“I love it more than I ever even knew I would,” she said. “It’s really an art.”