x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Mermaid dazzles at Atlantis the Palm trade event

Melissa Dawn, a mermaid who has been performing at Atlantis the Palm this week, can hold her breath underwater for five minutes.

Melissa Dawn, known as Mermaid Melissa, has been performing for the past week at an aquarium in Dubai. Courtesy of Brag
Melissa Dawn, known as Mermaid Melissa, has been performing for the past week at an aquarium in Dubai. Courtesy of Brag

DUBAI // The closest thing to a real-life mermaid has been performing for the past week at an aquarium in Dubai.

Melissa Dawn was flown in from Los Angeles especially for a trade event at Atlantis the Palm, and has been amazing crowds with her uncanny ability to swim without breathing equipment.

Ms Dawn, 32, is able to hold her breath underwater for five minutes, all the while interacting with guests on the other side of the aquarium glass, and dodging sharks.

“Although mermaids are mythical, I’m trying to act in a way a real-life mermaid would,” she said.

“So I have to try to make it look easy even though I really am struggling holding my breath. I don’t actually have gills, so it is hard.”

Ms Dawn, who has her own “Mermaid Melissa” aquarium show in the US, was the surprise attraction on Wednesday at the Fab Conference and Awards at the Ossiano restaurant in Atlantis.

“To the best of our knowledge, Dubai has never had a mermaid appear before,” said Kevin Zajax, the chief commercial officer for Emirates Leisure Retail, who brought Ms Dawn out for the Fab conference.

“We wanted to really wow the delegates from around the globe. The night was an amazing success with world-class entertainment, and Melissa was an absolute crowd pleaser.”

Ms Dawn said she took time out after the performance to meet guests at the conference. “I don’t normally want to break the illusion, but they were all adults,” she said.

“So after the party I went down and met with everyone. They were all fascinated with how I could hold my breath for so long, it made me feel really special because I’ve travelled so far to be here.”

One of the most difficult aspects of her job, she said, is not wearing goggles. “They don’t know that I’m almost blind when I’m underwater,” she said.

“People ask me how I can deal with all that salt water in my eyes, and still make it look as though I can see people through the glass.

“I don’t see any better than anyone else, I just learned to grow accustomed to it.

“I can see camera flashes, and I can see if someone puts their hand up against the glass. Then I can match my hand up to theirs.”

Ms Dawn grew up near the beach in Orlando, Florida, and started an early career at an aquarium as a free diver.

It was through working sometimes 12-hour shifts, where she learned to hold her breath for five minutes underwater.

The show organisers took to calling her “Mermaid Melissa” because of her graceful movements underwater, and the name stuck, she said.

“I started thinking outside the box, or in my case, the tank,” she said.

“What would happen if I turned this into something much more grand, much more extravagant, and actually got a really nice tail?”

So several thousand dollars and a custom, latex tail later, Ms Dawn began staging underwater shows.

“This is a now full-time profession for me and a booming business,” she said. “Now I have a whole troop of mermaids. I have mermen and pirates, and we travel all over the world.”

Despite turning 32 recently, Ms Dawn said she has increased her breath hold from four minutes to five minutes, and is still pushing it further.

“Just because I’m in my 30s, doesn’t mean I can’t one-up my 20s,” she said. “I’m proud to say I’m getting better at my craft. Age hasn’t been a factor.”

mcroucher@thenational.ae