Dissertation // Mermaiding

As part of my research for the last chapter of my dissertation which is on mermaids as a subculture, I looked at mermaiding which is the practice of wearing and often swimming in a costume mermaid tail. It is also known as artistic mermaiding, mermaidry or artistic mermaid performance. Mermaiding began in the 20th century and was sometimes referred to as water ballet, it is not modern synchronised swimming but there can be confusion if a mermaid performance troupe is performing a routine that is synchronised. Mermaiding also goes includes cosplay and crafting in terms of the making of tails and other prosthetics used. There are several tail making companies that provide the ‘mer’ community with things such as fabric tails and full SFX prostheeses costing thousands of dollars.

Mermaiding is both a profession and a hobby and professional mermaids are anyone that swims in live, filmed or photographed productions like films and tv shows and water shows. Non-professional enthusiasts are people who swim in tails in their local pools, lakes or seashores but a whole lot of them don’t actually swim but do mermaid themed photoshoots.


Mermaids get started really with Annette Kellerman (1886-1975) who was an Australian professional swimmer, vaudeville star, film actress and writer. She played mermaids many times during her career and has been credited with inventing the sport synchronised swimming after one of her performances in 1907. Her mermaiding started in 1911 as part of what she called her ‘fairy tale films’ in which she was the first actress to wear a swimmable mermaid costume on film. She designed all her mermaid costumes and sometimes made them herself, similar designs are still used by the Weeki Wachee Springs mermaids.


Million Dollar Mermaid was the nickname given to American competitive swimmer and actress Esther Williams (1921-2013) after she starred as Annette Kellerman in the 1952 biographical film ‘Million Dollar Mermaid’.

Weeki Wachee Mermaids is a famous show in Florida in the natural Weeki Wachee Springs. In 1946, Newton Perry scouted out the springs for a new business and then invented a method of breathing underwater from a free-flowing air hose supplying oxygen from an air compressor, rather than a tank strapped to the back. He had a 18 seat theatre built into the limestone submerged 6ft below the surface of the spring so you could look right into the water. He couted out pretty girls and trained them to swim with the air hoses and smile at the same time and the underwater theatre opened in October 1947. In the 1950’s Weeki Wachee became one of the nation’s most popular tourist stops and received world wide acclaim. In the 1960s girls came from around the world to try out to become a mermaid.

Nowadays people from all around the world from different backgrounds, genders, ages and ethnicities upload videos and photos of tails and underwater performances on youtube, social media and personal websites as well as websites dedicated to mermaiding as a subculture. There are still many professional mermaids working a aquariums, casinos or tourist attractions. A quite new movement is mermaid swimming schools and classes where people can learn to swim in a mermaid tail. The first being The Mermaid Kat Academy in August 2012, shortly after the Philippine Mermaid Academy and several other mermaid schools opened up around the world.

Here are a list of films involved with mermaiding: 

  • Miranda ( 1948)
  • Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948)
  • Million Dollar Mermaid (1952)
  • Splash (1984)
  • Mermaid Got Married (1994)
  • The Thirteenth Year (1999)
  • Mermaids (2003)
  • Aquamarine (2006)
  • H20: Just Add Water (2006)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)



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