MANILA, Philippines – Admit it. Many of us have dreamt of becoming a mermaid.
After all, we grew up watching Ariel in The Little Mermaid. Even Filipino teleseryes like Dyesebel and Marina make us want to believe that they’re real. We’d often daydream about living under the sea sporting those vibrant and colorful mermaid fins.
One woman, however, is actually turning these dreams into a reality with her special mermaid academy.
For Roxy Barrios Almeda, being one with the water was something she was always destined to do. Her dad was a scuba diving instructor and her mom was a swimming teacher. Most of her summers growing up were spent on the beach.
“I was a competitive swimmer for the most part of my growing up years, and every sport I’ve dabbled in is rooted in the water, from triathlon, wakeboarding, scuba, and freediving,” she told Rappler.
While most are scared and anxious of the water, Roxy has no qualms plunging in head first – it is her safe space. Surrounded by water, she has no fear.
From engaging in water sports, Roxy’s family soon discovered how to connect swimming with entertainment. Her dad became a part of an underwater production team that shot international and local movies and shows, and she soon got involved in this industry, too.
She trained actors on how to move properly underwater, and taught many of them how to swim while wearing a mermaid tail. With many productions under her belt, Roxy shared that she had even served as a stunt double and extra in several projects.
“From mermaids, to ghosts, and siyokoys, I was basically an underwater performer since 2005,” she recalled.
After a couple of years of solely training actors, Roxy wanted to share her knowledge with more individuals. She then crafted a program that specifically taught people how to swim like a mermaid in a swimmable mermaid tail.
Hence, the birth of the Mermaid Institute.
Conceptualized in 2002 but officially launched in 2013, the Mermaid Institute offers mermaiding classes in Metro Manila and all around the Philippines.
What is mermaiding?
“Mermaiding” is a term coined by professional mermaid pioneers in the early 2000s to refer to the act of swimming in a mermaid tail.
To be able to properly swim while wearing a mermaid tail, one must use the dolphin kicking technique. It’s a swimming technique wherein the legs are extended straight back and move in sync – up and down in unison with a slight bend in the knees on the upward movement – reminiscent of a dolphin.
It’s different from what normal swimmers are used to, which is alternately moving their legs.
“Mermaiding is really tricky [at] the start, but once everything comes together – timing, ankle flick, fluidity, undulation – you will be kicking properly from that point on,” Roxy said.
While mermaiding classes are open to non-swimmers, Roxy is upfront in saying that the experience will be best enjoyed by those who can swim independently.
The Mermaid Institute offers a 60-minute crash course class called “Intro to Mermaiding” for those who are interested in learning mermaiding basics. Classes are open to students as young as five years old, and are open to all genders.
“For some people, one session is not enough to reach [the point where they can kick properly], and I would advise a five-session in-depth class. But for some people, they get to that point in 15 minutes. And since the introduction class is a crash course, we advance to ‘mermaid moves’ such as teaching them about side swim, mermaid twirls, somersaults, within that session,” she said.
The crash course introductory class is perfect for participants who are still testing the waters – unsure if it’s something they want to do in the long run. But for those who are interested to hone their mermaiding skills, Roxy invites them to their five-session program.
Each session, participants will be taught about dolphin kicking, buoyancy control, breath-holding techniques, mermaid stunts, and marine conservation.
Once participants are confident with their mermaiding skills, they can now move on to other fun group classes such as the “Mermaid of the Deep Challenge,” which is held in a scuba pool where mermaids can do deeper dives, and “Mermaid Fitness,” for those who want to add a twist to their exercise routine by incorporating mermaid moves.
Throughout her years of teaching, Roxy is appreciative of how receptive and supportive the Filipino mermaiding community is.
She recalled that on previous Batangas day trips, each participating group was a memorable bunch. The excursion involved an exclusive trip to Anilao, during which participants take on a pool mermaiding session, followed by a marine conservation session, and then an open water mermaiding photoshoot.
Instagram boyfriends or dads joining these trips give their full support – becoming photographers, personal assistants, and directors all in one just for their partners or children. One trip has even been tested by wildlife, after thousands of jellyfish (not the super dangerous kind, Roxy said) surrounded them.
“[Activities like this] are always challenging, the behind-the-scenes moments are always for the books. But for sure, [each participant] will have an amazing photo or video, meet a fun group of friends, and live out [their] mythical mermaid fantasy,” she said.
With such activities canceled for the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Roxy said that they’re now eager to make a much bigger splash now that things are opening back up.
“Sharing the gift of mermaiding through the Mermaid Institute just brings about this mythical, magic effect,” Roxy said. “Seeing that joy in a child’s eyes once they first wear the mermaid tail or seeing the excitement of our older participants as they awra for their underwater videos really give me this passion to continue for that mermaid dream.”
“But more than dressing and moving like a mermaid, I hope to inspire mermaids to live out as true protectors of the sea. We live in a country with exquisite marine life. To showcase and raise awareness about the perils of the sea will always be part and parcel of the mermaid life.” – Rappler.com