Meet Gemma Lascio, professional mermaid. The 26-year-old from Willowick — who, no, has not yet quit her day job — entertains kids and adults at birthday parties, festivals and meet-and-greets. Sometimes she just sits and looks pretty, while others she’ll blow fish kisses and do flips in tanks. She can hold her breath for up to two minutes.
The only professional mermaid in Northeast Ohio, as far as she knows, Lascio is a member of the Ohio Mermaids, which includes professionals in Columbus and Cincinnati. She studied Japanese at John Carroll University and loves Lake Erie. Though her mermaid character, Mermaid Gem, the “Jewel of the Sea,” hails from the South Pacific.
We talked to her about the mermaid trend and her advice to kids.
(By the way, it is a total trip to tell your colleagues you’re interviewing a professional mermaid. My kids also were very impressed.)
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you get into mermaiding? (Is that a verb?)
I’ve always loved mermaids since childhood. But what got me really started is when I was in high school searching in the early days of YouTube. I saw people were swimming in professional, movie-grade tails in like Florida and Hawaii. It just seemed like a pipe dream.
Then at the hotel pool at a Columbus anime convention in 2012, I saw a girl at the hotel pool with a tail, and she let me try it on. Then I was like, I need to get my own beginner’s fin.
How much do you work?
I just kind of thought it would be full time. It can’t be. But I do do it pretty steadily. Through summer, every single weekend I’m booked. I’m very, very lucky to be active professional mermaid. When it comes to a long-term career goal, it’s probably not realistic. But I see myself doing this for a long time.
I get hired for a lot of private events, like birthday parties in pools.
What do you do when you perform?
The tail I have is 30 pounds of silicone. It’s neutrally buoyant: heavy on land, but in water feels like extension of yourself. I do flips, bubble kisses, just kind of swimming around, looking pretty. It’s just so much fun. Kids and adults, alike, their eyes, they just love it. It’s amazing.
I did scuba training, which taught me a lot of techniques. I’m also self-taught, and I learn from my mermaid sisters.
What do you think of the mermaid trend?
I go crazy when I see mermaid stuff. Since 2015 I feel like it’s really taken off.
I think a mermaid is a symbol of feeling empowered and graceful and beautiful. It’s like a symbol of feminine strength, I think. That is how I feel in my tail. I feel like me but a different side of me; I can’t even tell you how much more confident I feel.
What do kids ask you?
Kids ask me some really intense questions sometimes. They ask me if I have a mom and dad. I tell them I have a mom and dad and two sisters, like I do in real life. I haven’t thought that far, to when they ask me their names. I say they don’t have land names. They speak a mermaid language that sounds like dolphins.
Whenever a little girl asks me how she can grow up to be a mermaid, I say stay pure of heart, believe in magic and practice your swimming.