- Pamela Polston
- Mermaid Dalni (Danielle Ross)
Name: Danielle Ross
Job: Professional mermaid performer
Whenever Danielle Ross tells people what she does for a living, she's met with bemusement. After all, how many professional mermaid performers does one meet?
"I explain that I do parties for kids and I do events," said Ross, whose stage name is Mermaid Dalni.
Ross, 22, has always loved mermaids, fairies and "everything magical." When she found out that there were people who worked as professional mermaid models and promoted ocean conservation and beach cleanups, she knew it was something she wanted to do.
Since she began working four years ago, Ross has performed for all ages, including guests at Kids Day in Burlington, the Vermont Renaissance Faire in Stowe and, most recently, the Seven Daysies awards party. Adults, Ross noted, want to know the business and technical aspects of her job. Children, on the other hand, want to know about her underwater life, she said.
Ross is busiest during summers, performing in swimming pools, in the lake and on dry land. She used to have a giant shell throne on which people could sit next to her for photo ops. She recently acquired a tank to expand her performance repertoire. During winter down time, she makes jewelry, tails and tops for fellow mermaid performers.
One of her dreams is to be photographed out in the ocean, a mermaid's "natural habitat," said Ross. "There are quite a few mermaids based in Florida, Hawaii and California, where they have easy access to that kind of visual environment."
Seven Days caught up with Ross to learn more about her job and her secret to preserving mermaid magic for kids.
SEVEN DAYS: What kind of training or skills does one need to be a professional mermaid performer?
DANIELLE ROSS: I'm CPR and AED certified. That's one thing very important to have, just in case there's an incident. I'm scuba certified through PADI, and I have standard and basic babysitting certification through the Red Cross.
The best thing you need, really, is an imagination. When a kid asks you a question that you never expected, you can come up with the answer on the spot and make sure they still believe in mermaids.
Liking kids is really good, and having the people skills to answer questions and keep up the banter. If you go more into the tail-making and costume-making aspect, it's good to have the art skill.
SD: What goes into the making of your tail?
DR: Making a tail, from beginning 'til the end, is about a nine-month process. My tail weighs about 45 pounds. It's made entirely out of [2.5 gallons of] silicone, aside from the fins that I put my feet in inside of the tail so that I can swim.
The first step is coming up with an idea. I'll draw out the shape across multiple pieces of paper. Then I lay those down on a slab of flattened clay, cut out the shape and start sculpting. Once I've made the sculpture, I pour a two-part resin into it. Then I can peel off the clay and I've gotten a negative image. And with that, I pour in silicone rubber, and then I have the shape of the tail.
SD: What are some of your occupational hazards?
DR: Working with children, you do tend to get sick. I've had rashes from children. I've had pink eye now twice. I've gotten colds from children. I try to take care of myself.
SD: Have you had to deal with unwanted attention or harassment?
DR: I've had adults make comments that they shouldn't necessarily have been making, innuendo-type conduct. I try to stay in character. I pretty much always have a helper with me. So, if need be, I will ask them to come in and intervene in that type of situation. You don't want to be yelling at someone, and then the children think mermaids are mean.
SD: Do you have different activities for children and adults?
DR: For a kids' party, I'll bring tails for them to swim in. I'll teach them how to swim like a mermaid. They really want to talk to me. They really want to be able to interact. For the adults, [it's] more about having a mermaid there. So it tends to be a show where I'll do tricks and things.
SD: Do you usually perform indoors or outdoors?
DR: Most of it does happen outdoors, like open-air festivals and events. But I have done indoor events for birthday parties and shows. There have been a couple of times I swam up from the lake to see children. They'll be on the beach, and the parents tell me where they are, and I'll swim up just like a mermaid coming out of the ocean. But a lot of the times, I'll do birthday parties in pools, where I'll have the parents bring the kids out of the pool and then a mermaid magically shows up. When the time is over, I'll have the parents bring the kids back inside either for cake or presents, and then I'll magically disappear.
SD: Have kids ever caught you without your tail?
DR: When I'm leaving a party, I leave in the tail. I'll get on a wheelchair and then get in the passenger seat of a car, still wearing the tail. If I'm at an event, I'll put up walls so the children can't see me. If the event doesn't clear out and I need to take off, I'll put on a wig so they can't tell it's me.
If I do get caught, I try to stay in character and explain it in a way that preserves the magic for them. I'll tell them that there's special mermaid magic that can let me grow legs, but we have to keep it a secret because we don't want anyone making me stay on land when I don't want to.
SD: What happens after an event?
DR: It takes about an hour to pick up all of the props [and] empty the water out of the tank with our transfer pump. As soon as I get out of the tank or out of the tail, I'll drink water and go to the bathroom. Because I'm more or less immobile — while I'm in the tail [and] in the tank — I don't drink water, because then I would need to go to the bathroom, and that's an issue.