“They want to dream a little longer”: the deep allure of mermaids | platform

aOn a sunny Thursday in June, mermaids flooded the Tinside Lido in Plymouth. It was a sea of ​​metallic sheen, candy colors, scalloped bikinis and long, scaly tails. Numbering 378 people, this was the largest ever gathering of Merpeople, according to Guinness World Records. “It was fantastic,” says organizer Pauline Parker. “What a happy, lively day. People went into town with sparkles and shine and it was really fun.”

Parker is a committed swimmer who owns a mermaid tail. “I live in the world of outdoor swimming and when we imagine ourselves mermaids, dolphins or sirens in the sea, it just brings this fantasy world to life for a few hours,” she says.

Mermaid’ has become mainstream, with the manufacture of mono-fins, tails and accessories, mermaid swimming schools, merfolk communities and professional mermaids appearing at events and aquariums. YouTube is full of mermaid makeup tutorials, which show how to stretch mesh tights over your face to stencil the effect of scales. But mermaids don’t always have their moments in and out of cultural life. Stories of mythical women living at sea appear in folklore around the world, dating back thousands of years, from the Syrian fertility goddess Atargatis to the Japanese Ningyo, the capricious spirit of Mami Wata in West Africa, and the Irish myra or Thai mermaid princess Sovanamacha. Some are refined and some are raging like stormy seas; Some protect sailors, others shoot down their ships.

In more recent iterations, Disney recently released Trailer for their new live movie The Little MermaidNext year, there’s a Tom Hanks remake / Daryl Hannah Splash in the works, with Channing Tatum as the intersex mermaid. while Northern Ballet is currently touring With David Nixon The Little Mermaid, a family ballet based on the cultural life’s most enduring mermaid, Hans Christian Andersen’s intoxicating watery princess of the human world.

The mainstream is gone… mermaids congregate at Tinside Lido in Plymouth, Devon, to break the world record for largest gathering of mermaids.
The mainstream is gone… mermaids congregate at Tinside Lido in Plymouth, Devon, to break the world record for largest gathering of mermaids. Image: (pending approval)

Andersen’s story may have been overshadowed by the Disney Fed version, but as is often the case, the original story—which Nixon followed in ballet—is somewhat bleaker. The mermaid who gives up everything: family, home, her tail and most importantly her, her voice, for the infatuation of a man who does not love her back after all.

In Nixon’s ballet, the lord of the sea takes the voice of a mermaid in exchange for a potion that gives her human legs, telling her that she will only survive if the prince marries her. “I think people were a little shocked when they first saw the solo she made where she lost her tail, because it hurts, the twitches and twitches,” Nixon says. “I imagine it like shooting pains and sharp pins and needles,” says Abigail Broadhams, the dancer who created the role.

Without her voice, the mermaid can’t explain who she is, and she has to watch him marry another woman knowing that she will die without his love. I offer her one last deal, kill the prince and she’s back to being a mermaid, but she can’t do it. “It’s about love in its purest sense,” says Nixon. “If you truly love someone, there is selflessness about it, it is about them, not about you. You are sacrificing yourself.”

It is a real loss to the story of innocence. “She knows the prince has his lasting happiness and can’t go back, and she has to deal with it,” says Broadhams. “People make a lot of mistakes when they are young, but no matter what you choose, you have to understand that you did it for a reason. At the time, it worked for you.”

Before it all seemed too heavy, Brodams adds, “There’s a lot in ballet for kids!” Not least the gorgeous costumes and graceful creatures undulating under the sea, but as with most fairy tales, you read in them everything you’re ready to see.

“It’s really tragic” … The Folkestone Mermaid by Cornelia Parker. Photography: David Hare/Almy

It’s easy to see Andersen’s story as a decidedly non-feminist. “It’s really tragic, heartbreaking,” says the artist. Cornelia ParkerFrom the voiceless young woman. When Parker chose to create her own mermaid sculpture, for the Folkestone Triennale in 2011, she was equally inspired by the H.G. Wells story The Sea Lady, “which was about a mermaid who was a siren, as opposed to the negative form of the Little Mermaid.” Bronze Parker is perched on the rocks overlooking Sunny Sands Beach at the famous Eben Copenhagen statue, but it features a real, living woman, Georgina Baker, local mother of two. As with all good public arts, the Folkestone Mermaid means many things to many people. She wears Halloween costumes and bunny ears, children sit on her lap, and people leave their clothes with her when they go swimming: she’s a teacher, meeting point and a proud local icon.

As the statue stares into the horizon, Parker says the mermaid Folkestone is also “almost like a bell for rising sea levels.” “At high tide, she sits somewhat in the waves; she might be swept away at some point. I always thought of her a bit like Canute, blocking the waves.” There is often an ecological corner among mermaid lovers. Many of those involved in the mermaid community come from a marine conservation perspective, including Brighton’s annual fundraiser mermaids march.

The founder of the Brighton event was inspired by the long-running events Coney Island mermaid paradeA celebration of the creativity and dress-up that inspired the award-winning children’s book Julian the Mermaid by Jessica Love. It’s a beautifully illustrated story of a boy who sees mermaids on the subway, on their way to the show, dressed like they would at home. I’m not sure if his grandmother would agree, but she eventually takes him to the show – it’s a beautiful story of self-expression and acceptance.

A sea figure bust created by Eve Shepherd for the National Maritime Museum.
“Friends with Everything Alive”… A bust of a sea person created by Eve Shepherd for the National Maritime Museum. Photo: Eve the Shepherd

In recent years, the mermaid has also become a symbol of the transgender community. It resonates for various reasons, as a transformative being that travels between worlds. sculptor Shepherd’s Eve Create a bust called Sea Figure of the National Maritime Museumand working with young people who were transgender or gender diverse. It was based on young people’s ideas of what they wanted the creature to be, something that was “very friendly and belonged to all places, sea, air and land, and was the friend of every living thing.” Its creation is more than just a mermaid, it has wings and scales. They also wanted the being to have a primordial, immortal quality, like the first living beings to have passed from the sea to the land, because “although transient and non-dual society may have not hitherto been recognized by the West, they have always been here.”

Shepard’s own vision of The Little Mermaid’s story comes colorful knowing this Hans Christian Andersen was gay (Some controversy over this label, but he certainly fell in love with men as well as women, mostly for nothing.) “The longing to fall in love with this person from another world – there is sadness when you know the basic story,” says Shepherd. “I can understand why the mermaid metaphor has been used by the gay community, and its crossover into the trans and non-binary community.”

The mermaid belongs to everyone, her allure is constantly expanding. When did fashion designer Magdalena Jovanovic start her career mermaid planet Selling mermaid tails in 2009, it quickly grew and grew. “It was like: Oh! I’m on the verge of something,” she says. I started making tails for kids (for girls as well as girls) and then found that adults ask for them too. “Speaking to clients, parents want their children to dream, and they want the fairy tales to last longer for them,” says Yovanovitch. “And for adults, it’s the same, they want to dream a little longer.”

Some people take their creativity even further. “People are vampire mermaids or zombie mermaids right now,” she says. “I have always loved the beauty of fashion and how it can change you from one person to another. With the right cut of fabric, with the right shape, you can create a character.” It’s like the experience of swimming in a mermaid’s tail by turning into a butterfly. “This is the only way I can describe it. You change instantly.”

To get a final word on what’s great about mermaids, I consulted an expert, my five-year-old niece Lana. “They can talk underwater and sharks don’t eat them,” that’s her reasoning. “And I love the sparkle on the tail.”

“All the ocean animals are her friends,” says her older sister, Sophie, before adding, “It’s great to be half a fish.”

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