Lenox >> Do you believe in mermaids? You should, because there's one splashing around the indoor pool at the Cranwell Spa and Golf Resort.
"It's like entering another world," said Sophie Breton, a fitness instructor at the resort turned mermaid with the flap of a fin.
It's a beautiful sight, watching Breton do flips underwater, her shimmering tail breaking the surface with every dive. One can't help but allow a child-like grin to erupt with every kick she makes.
While magical, it's not really stuff of sea lore, but rather a new cottage "mer" industry that is making mermaid enthusiasts of all ages go head over fin.
Breton's transformation takes place with the help of a monofin she purchased online in April for about $50. It's similar to the kind of flippers you would use if you were scuba diving or swimming in the ocean, except there is only one fin for both feet. Breton — who is also a certified yoga instructor and artist with a background in dancing — slides the monofin into a custom-made mermaid tail that covers her legs and pulls all the way up to her waist, completing the ethereal look.
"It looks so nice in the water," she said, as she kicked the teal tail, complete with reflective scales and a ombre purple ruffle fluke floating from where the monofin rests snuggly at the bottom of the tail.
"The first time I saw her do this I thought, 'Is this a thing?'" said Maura Stanton, assistant spa director at Cranwell. "But it's something people are really interested in. It's unique, playful and so fun."
Transforming land legs into mer legs is apparently something that a lot of people do, with about 1,000 people employed in 2015 to perform as mermaids and mermen, according to an article published in Fast Company magazine. There are bars where mermaids serve you cocktails, and in some cities you can hire a mermaid to swim during your child's birthday party. Who doesn't want a real-life Ariel in their backyard pool?
Breton first found out about it when seeing some kids swimming in the Cranwell pool with mermaid equipment. She did some investigating online and found countless places to purchase her own mermaid apparel.
She'd don the tail and fin in the mornings at the pool, as a warm up before she taught an aquatics class — the resort offers about 10 different fitness classes in the water a week. Guests, she said, started to take notice and became intrigued.
It's hard not to be, when suddenly there's a mermaid tail flapping next to you. On a sunny Thursday morning, one gentleman had stopped by the pool to do a few laps and couldn't believe his eyes.
"Are you a mermaid?" he said to Breton with a laugh. "Can someone take my picture? My wife will never believe me that I swam with a mermaid today!"
Guests can request a private mermaid lesson to give the monofin a try, according to Stanton. There are no plans at this time for group classes, because of the equipment, but they are exploring other ways they can capitalize on the mermaid trend.
If you're interested in transforming into a mermaid or merman — apparently, the professional term for a male mermaid — Breton said she would first see how comfortable you are in the water.
"We'd have to start in the shallow end and practice the dolphin kick first," she said, showing the kick that requires a swimmer to keep his or her legs together, using the hips to create the up-and-down motion. "Then I would need to assess their core strength."
While mermaiding certainly looks beautiful and effortless when done right, it's a full-body workout, according to Breton, who can do laps and flips in the pool for 20 to 30 minutes before she begins to tire. You need strong inner thighs to keep your legs together, strong hips to create the motion to kick and your arms to help propel you forward. With the fin on, it's also like treading water the whole time, said Breton, who never lets the delicate tail scrape the bottom of the pool.
But like all exercises, said Stanton, there are modifications to be made.
"If you're interested, maybe come and take an aqua class with Sophie to get started," said Stanton, who, when asked if she wanted to give the tail a spin, politely declined on account of lack of swimming prowess. For the record, this reporter declined for the same reason. "You never need to feel intimidated when trying something new."
For Breton, who loves being in the water, it's just another fun way for her to work out. She also gets to fulfill a life-long fantasy of becoming a mermaid, even if just for a few laps a day. She laughs when she remembers that she once dressed up like a mermaid for her high school Halloween party.
"It's so nice to swim so freely and so powerfully," she said. "It creates a totally different feel. You really do feel like a mermaid."