Credit: STR/AFP/Getty
The authors as mermaids
The authors as mermaidsCredit: Nora Kaitis

A few weeks ago an e-mail popped into the inboxes of the authors of this post inviting us to swim like a mermaid. We knew we had to accept, because how often in your life do you get to fulfill one of your most cherished childhood dreams?

The message from Nora Kaitis of AquaMermaid Chicago, the local franchise of a company based in Montreal, promised we would be provided with actual mermaid tails and taught how to swim in them. So last weekend we headed down to the pool at the UIC Sports and Fitness Center, where Kaitis teaches classes every Sunday at noon.

After we signed a rather daunting disclaimer that absolved AquaMermaid of any responsibility should we drown (we were comforted that we were very close to the UIC Medical Center), Kaitis showed us how to put on our monofins, which fit on our feet like sandals, and fit the stretchy cloth tail over it. Then we plunged in. Somehow we had forgotten in our excitement that Kaitis had promised it would be a workout.

Herewith our reflections on our experiences:

The monofinsCredit: Aimee Levitt

Aimee Levitt: 
Did you have mermaid aspirations when you were little? I think I probably did because I couldn’t actually swim, so I had to find other ways to fill my free swim time.

Brianna Wellen: I always thought that mermaids were beautiful, but I also couldn’t actually swim, so I think that I probably shut down any aspirations of my own before they started.

AL: Really?

BW: Avoiding the deep end of the pool is not a good way to become a mermaid.

AL: You went to the deep end yesterday. In a mermaid tail!

BW: I didn’t think I would! I think the mermaid tail gave me power.

AL: That’s so beautiful! It made me feel really weak. I never realized how much power there was in being able to spread your legs.

Nora Kaitis shows off the tail.Credit: Aimee Levitt

I think I learned that I’m bad at swimming because I tend to flail my limbs without actually doing anything. Having my legs constricted made me think more about what physically makes you move in water.

When our mermaid guide, Nora, kept telling me to keep my arms forward to be more aerodynamic, I think it’s the best I’ve ever swam.

AL: How did it affect your muscles?

BW: I definitely got a leg cramp during the class. Having your legs together forces you to use muscles that you rarely use.

AL: You really need to use your stomach and core, too.

BW: Yes, now I know why mermaids have flat stomachs. How did you feel in the water?

AL: I felt even clumsier than usual. I had a really hard time manipulating my fin. It was heavy and it was hard to move.

BW: Yes, the fin was the most difficult part. It really dragged in the water, and that resistance took some getting used to.

AL: I think if I’d had more practice doing the dolphin kick, it might have come more easily. Nora said we were supposed to move our bodies like a wave, but I had a hard time with it, especially without using my arms.

BW: It was like trying to do the worm across the water. Which is as hard as it sounds.

AL: It does look really pretty with the tail, though.

BW: Once we learned to manipulate the fin more, it was what made me feel most like a mermaid.

AL: I don’t think I ever quite got the hang of that.

BW: The “mermaid hello,” floating on your back and waving with the fin, was exactly what I imagined when I heard about a mermaid swim class.

AL: Ha! I think that was my favorite move. Anything that required coordinating breathing, swimming, and the fin was pretty much beyond me.

BW: The move that I wish I had been able to get that I couldn’t quite figure out was the tail stand, a handstand in the water with the tail out of the water. It looked so good when our experienced swimming partners did it, and I just couldn’t get underwater at all.

AL: I couldn’t kick my legs up hard enough.

BW: As we talk about the class, I realize how physically demanding being a mermaid is, but in the moment it didn’t feel like exercise. I was tricked into exercise with the promise of being a beautiful mermaid.

AL: It felt like exercise to me! I mean, as soon as we learned the first move, swimming facedown above water, and had to start on our first lap. Even when we were buoyed by the pool noodles.

BW: I wish we had become experts and could have learned more synchronized swimming moves. I’d love to go to another class just to see what more advanced students can do creatively and artistically with the mermaid moves.

AL: I think my favorite moment was when the advanced students who were in the pool with us swam over to say hello (both mermaid- and human-style) to the other swimmers in the pool. There was a disabled woman there having a regular swimming lesson who seemed so delighted!

BW: And watching them swim through the lanes and pop up on the other side of the pool looked so magical that even I squealed in delight a little!

AL: I mostly envied them. They made it look so easy!

BW: I can totally see these girls making a child’s day at a pool party. Yes, they were so graceful!

Two experienced mermaids show off the mermaid high five.Credit: Aimee Levitt

Nora said they’ve been mermaiding since the mermaid lessons started in July.

BW: And Nora herself is a real, certified mermaid! She went to mermaid school and everything!

AL: She signs her e-mails “professional mermaid.” She told us that the first mermaid school was created at McGill University in Montreal by some synchronized swimmers there.

BW: Now there is an annual convention called Mermania. We need to check it out.

AL: I looked at the website last night. It was founded by a dude! A merman!

BW: I would love to see some mermen take the class in Chicago.

AL: Nora says there have been a few.

BW: Well I for one highly recommend everyone try being a mermaid, just for one day.

AL: It’ll give you a workout anyway. What did you like best about being a mermaid?

BW: I loved the outfit. Even though it was a little awkward, it really made me feel like a mermaid. And the glitter we got at the end! No mermaid is complete without some glitter. What about you?

AL: I think I just loved the whole absurdity of it. I mean, this is the sort of thing seven-year-old girls dream of.

BW: I think at first I was nervous of what the nonmermaid swimmers would think of us being in the pool. But us being there really made everyone so happy!

AL: Except for the lifeguard. He seemed totally nonplussed. I looked up at him as I was mermaiding past, snorting water up my nose, and he just looked through me like I wasn’t even there.

BW: He was just trying to hide his jealousy. He wanted a tail too.

AL: I’m sure that’s it.

BW: Anything else about the mermaid experience?

AL: I’m really sore today. How about you?

BW: I’m also sore, and I swallowed a lot of chlorine yesterday. But I’m glad we did it.

AL: Me too. A childhood dreamed fulfilled! Plus now there’s a ridiculous video of us.

BW: We look like otters! Swimming on our backs and holding hands. I love it.

The authors as mermaidsCredit: Nora Kaitis