CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mermaids Hawaii members practiced at the Kalihi Valley District Park pool recently. They are, from left: Jean Simon, Res Crighton, Louise Low, Deena Char, on the shoulders of Karen Ho'okano, Reta Maag, Daughn O'Neill, Charlotte Szarmes, Michaeline Belatti and Alice Roberts.
Deena Char is a typical 10-year-old. She plays piano, takes gymnastic classes and enjoys Disneyland.
Christmas Water Show: 2 p.m. Saturday
Place: Kalihi Valley District Park Pool, 1911 Kamehameha IV Road
Also: Call about free synchronized swimming classes at Makiki District Park or to join Mermaids Hawaii
One difference though -- the fifth-grader from Lincoln Elementary School joined a group of mermaids a couple years ago and has been swimming with them since.
Alice Roberts, a retired schoolteacher and bus driver, and Jean Simon, a clerk typist for WIC (Women, Infants and Children), established Mermaids Hawaii, a synchronized swimming group, in the early 1970s. The Mermaids practice for a couple of hours each Sunday at the Windward YMCA and have shows throughout the year.
"Sometimes it is serious and other times, it is zany," Deena said. But one thing remains constant: "Everyone is always so friendly."
Deena especially enjoys the array of costume options. "There is a lot of variety, sometimes they are really fancy and sometimes simple," she said. "I'm small, so sometimes I get to wear the Snoopy costume or a butterfly."
The most difficult part is keeping track of the beats and the stunts. "Sometimes the adults need to pull me up because I'm sinking," she said. "That makes it a lot easier."
Deena had already learned to swim and decided to take it to the next level when she joined Robert's synchronized swimming classes at Makiki District Park swimming pool.
Reta Maag, 77, is the oldest Mermaid. She joined after retiring from her career in social work about five years ago.
"I was in a swim club in college," she said. "I thought it would be interesting to join them and do things I used to do. And, I get a chance to meet new people."
Swimming in all the positions keeps Maag more agile. "The older I get, the more stiff I get."
The best part -- she doesn't need to worry about being perfect. "It doesn't upset me if make a mistake," she said. "I just keep on going."
Many members tell Roberts that swimming provides a great break from work and everyday stress. The performers comprise an array of professionals.
Among them are Barbara Klemm, a professor of science education at the University of Hawaii; Charlotte Szarmes, a mammographer at Kaiser Hospital; Connie Hong, a physical scientist and Web designer; and actor Shirley Calvert-Kimata.
"I've worked with some students who were nonswimmers and terrified of the water,'" said Roberts.
The original group evolved after gathering in 1969 to glamorize the International Diving School's scuba diving demonstrations. Soon after, an underwater ballet was created for Cec Heftel at the Rodeway Inn, which later became the Hawaiian Inn and is now the Holiday Inn Waikiki. A "Mermaid Luau" at Sea Life Park also was established. The first annual water show was presented at the Hawaiian Inn. This year marks the 36th holiday performance.
The underwater ballet continued at the Outrigger Hotel and Mermaids Hawaii did demonstrations for Haleiwa Sea Spree, Armed Forces Day, the 50th State fair and other venues throughout the years.
"Some routines are cute, some are funny and others are glamorous with lots of sparkle," said Roberts. Costumes for the "Silver Bells" routine are adorned with silver sequins. For "Silent Night," the swimmers are all in black and wearing fins. "We look long and slithery," said Roberts.
Roberts' main goal is making everyone look good. "The hardest part is pushing them to their potential," she said. "Because we are there to have fun."
Roberts recently had two hip-replacement surgeries and for a time had to settle for coaching on the sidelines. Obviously, the idea didn't set well. "I'm back in the water and my arms are stronger than ever," she said. "I just hope that my hips don't rust."