For three decades, the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade has infused the summer solstice with myth and whimsy and a whole lot of hooping. This year the event included a great deal of exultance following the dramatic rebuild of Coney Island mainstays after the devastating effects of hurricane Sandy, which blew through the boardwalk and historic buildings last fall. A successful Kickstarter campaign brought in the over $100,000 that was needed to ensure the beloved parade persisted. A Coney tradition, the Mermaid Parade draws hundreds and thousands of people, many who indulge in over the top costuming focusing on mermaids, mermen, sea creatures, urchins and other fanciful concoctions. Some describe the event as akin to Times Square on New Year’s Eve, but more imaginative, as hordes of onlookers and exhibitionists crowd the tiny isle to celebrate a holiday that is truly New York.
The beauty of the Mermaid Parade is the gaudy gleaming costumes, the confidant display of skin and the appeal to all walks of life. Tiny mermaids in strollers, or furry ones on leashes, strutted side by side with avant garde drag queens, nimble swing dancers and sideshow greats. Many laude the event as a secular holiday that celebrates people, art and the outrageous – something that many hoopers can identify with.
In many ways the Mermaid Parade is perfect for hoopers because anything goes and the eye-catching reigns. For those not in the know, hooping at the parade is best contained within the march itself. The throngs of eager parade goers create an atmosphere perfect for sardines, but not so much for casual hooping. Luckily, there were plenty who brought their trusty circles to the procession and worked the hoop magic while marching all the way to the sea.
As a longtime admirer of the event, this year marked the first of what I hope to be annual visits to Coney to participate in the parade. Accompanied by a native New Yorker and fabulously clad as mermaids, I learned the hard way that covering an event while dressed to play the part is nearly impossible. I spent more time wrangling snapshot hounds than snapping photos of my own. But, we do have some great ones to share with you anyway.
Photo by Tony Yang.
The largest art parade in the nation, The Mermaid Parade is a celebration of not only ancient mythology, but of the honky-tonk rituals of the seaside. It opens summer with incredible art, entrepreneurial spirit and community pride, bringing that mythology to life for local Coney Island residents who live on streets named Mermaid and Neptune, while bringing some vibrant self-esteem to a district too often disregarded as merely “entertainment”. And best of all, unlike most parades, this one has no ethnic, religious, or commercial aim. It’s simply a major New York holiday invented by artists that gives New Yorkers a beautiful opportunity to find their self-expression in public.
Audria Larsen, aka the Vivacious Miss Audacious, is a lifelong hooper and circle enthusiast. She is a freelance writer, entrepreneur and professional entertainer. The founder of Audacious Hoops, Grand Rapids, Michigan’s original hoop company, she teaches hoop dance classes and produces a myriad of art and entertainment ventures. You can also find her on Facebook.