When Marielle Chartier Henault slips into her silicone tail and rolls into the water, she transforms from 26-year-old business owner with auburn locks to real-life “Little Mermaid.”
What started as a mermaid modeling gig for a photographer friend three years ago turned into a fast-growing mermaid school that operates classes in the U.S. and Canada, where children and adults alike can don a mermaid fin and learn to swim like a siren.
As of Oct. 14, Las Vegas the third U.S. city where Aquamermaid, founded in February 2015, offers lessons in mermaiding.
“It’s like yoga,” said Chartier Henault, who fell in love with the sport of monofin swimming when, during her 2014 photoshoot, she found she could feel like a princess while simultaneously getting a core workout. “It’s fun, it’s for fitness but it’s not (done) in a competitive mindset.”
Just months later and soon after losing her job as an executive in telecommunications — she was fired for spending too much time working in creative, Chartier Henault said — the young entrepreneur launched Aquamermaid, which offers swimming classes for mermaid wannabes.
“I’m someone who’s in shape, but I hate going to the gym. That was something fun that I liked,” Chartier Henault said.
Fun, and magical, yes, but not simple — which is why some of her students are surprised when their abs are sore after class, she said.
“A lot of people think it’s easy,” Chartier Henault said.
Without the tail, mermaid swimming is more technically known as monofin swimming, she said.
A monofin, flippers connected to resemble a fish tail, is worn under the mermaid tail. Then, using what’s called a dolphin kick, swimmers move their legs up and down to resemble a mermaid’s movements.
All skill levels welcome
Because mermaiding is a workout, the class is considered high-intensity, she said. Still, students of all skill levels can join and swim at their own pace.
Jen Reise, a 31-year-old Chicagoan, has attended one Aquamermaid class, back in August. She’s been hooked since then.
“It was nice seeing how you end up moving more of your core when you can’t use your legs the way you typically would,” said Reise, who is now hoping to become an instructor so she has an excuse to wear the tail more often.
Arielle Langburt, a 22-year-old diver-turned-Aquamermaid-instructor from Montreal, said the activity works her arms, too.
“When you’re swimming, usually you have your legs to keep you up,” Langburt said. “But when they’re stuck together, you don’t have them to kick, so it’s really up to your arms.”
Many participants aren’t there for the abs, however. For some, becoming a mermaid for an hour fulfills a fantasy.
“You have the right to be a princess, and it’s good, because it’s a fitness workout, (so) it’s kind of socially acceptable,” Chartier Henault said.
To participate in Aquamermaid classes, Chartier Henault said students must be proficient swimmers. If they pass a lap swim test, then she helps them into a mermaid tail — and a life jacket, if they’re nervous.
Sometimes newcomers can feel claustrophobic in the tail, Chartier Henault said. Once it’s on, two legs need to operate as one.
But Reise said she was comfortable wearing the tail. “The suit is a lot lighter than you expect,” she said. “And most of the things you’re doing are in completely shallow water.”
‘Superheros and princesses’
About two and a half years after Chartier Henault began teaching in her hometown of Montreal, she’s expanding to Las Vegas, where she thinks her market will be twofold: locals looking for a regular weekend activity, and tourists hosting private events, like wedding parties.
Aquamermaid will offer classes every Saturday at the Municipal Pool at 431 E. Bonanza Road beginning Oct. 14 — 1 p.m. for children ages 7-12, 2 p.m. for teens and adults.
The teachers will be professional swimmers, like Anna Yatsko, a 28-year-old synchronized swimmer who spent four years performing in Le Reveand one year as a mermaid at Silverton’s aquarium. Teaching is her retirement plan, for now.
“I’m most excited to be working with kids,” she said. “It just give the opportunity for the kids to be in a fairytale and be like ‘The Little Mermaid.’ ”
Same for the adults, Yatsko added. “I think it’ll give them a bit of relaxation.”
Chartier Henault has found that to be true for people like Reise, who works full time at a university.
“It’s a good time to disconnect,” Chartier Henault said. “You can’t think about your day job. Everyone wants to be superheros and princesses, and now you can be one.”