Deciding what to do during my first weekend in New York City was a toss-up between sightseeing around Manhattan, or dressing up as a mermaid for the day. With little hesitation and a lot of body glitter, last Saturday I made my way towards the sea and the very strange world of Coney Island.
On a normal day Coney Island is anything but normal. Trapped in a seemingly eternal twilight zone of circus acts, death defying stunts and fast food stalls; it’s a place I have always wanted to visit. By some freak turn of fate my trip to New York also happened to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Coney Island’s annual Mermaid Parade.
Since 1983 when Dick Zigun, ‘Mayor of Coney Island’, first conceptualised the Mermaid Parade, both men and women have been dressing up as variations of the merpeople spending the day getting, well, legless. While there were also a few adorable merbabies amongst the semi-clad crowds on Saturday, this was definitely more of a day out for the adults. Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! Step right up! To my right you will see a tremendous troupe of belly-dancing mermaids; to my left, an elderly man in stretch-defying sequined shorts! Like any other day dedicated to collective self-expression, the Coney Island Mermaid Parade 2012 was a total freak show, and one of the best days out you can have in the city.
I’m not going to lie, I was very tempted to pay an extra $15 and attend the Mermaid Parade not merely as a spectator on the sidelines, but as an actual mermaid in the parade. A blue thought-bubble appeared above my head with the image of myself sitting upon a shell with long wavy hair, a sparkling aquamarine tail, waving at the crowds from a float drawn by smiling dolphins. This was quickly burst by the reality that I was in fact a grown female woman with legs and a very low threshold for embarrassment. Though my attempt at imitating a mermaid may have turned out more trashy than Disney (a blue dress, blue lipstick, tonne of silver body glitter), it was all about celebrating the corniness that is Coney Island.
The Parade harks back to the Mardi Gras Parade that used to take place there in the 1920s. Paying homage to a century of entertainment and silliness, there was also a lot going on aside from the actual procession: accordion players dressed as pirates; salsa dancing on the boardwalk; cotton candy stalls; and all the wonderful old rides in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park.
Like any other place that has been romanticised by the movies, Coney Island turned out to be as cheesy as the sauce they put on their £3 chilli-cheese dogs. It’s a place that anchors the nostalgia of 1950s New York, while dragging along all the excesses of modern day America. So if you happen to be in New York next June and, like me, find joy in unabashed displays of human ridiculousness, then I highly recommend the Mermaid Parade at Coney Island. You don’t have to dress up as a mermaid (or merman) either, it’s just a lot more fun if you do.
Words and images by Zara Miller
featured image via tugster.com