South Florida's most famous mermaid has never had a problem using her voice. In 2006, Marina Anderson — an aquatic performer known as MeduSirena — was turned down by the hotel manager after auditioning for an underwater show she hoped to start at the Sheraton, a historic resort in Fort Lauderdale built in 1956 as the Yankee Clipper. She was crestfallen but not discouraged — Anderson was confident she could attract guests to the then-empty Wreck Bar, a dive that looked like an old ship with portholes looking into the hotel's swimming pool.
Luckily, the manager's denial came with a caveat.
"They didn't have an interest in having the show at the moment, but they welcomed me to come anytime and practice. And practice I did," Anderson says. "I came every Thursday at 5:30. I went on MySpace and told everybody that I would be swimming in a fishtail at the Wreck Bar."
Anderson practiced her shows every week without being paid. Within two months, the bar was packed and the hotel began hiring her to swim.
"I had to prove to them... if I'm sitting here at a bar that looks like this, having a cocktail, wouldn't I want to see a mermaid swim through?" she says. "It just makes sense that you'd want to see that through those portholes."
Anderson grew up in Puerto Rico, where she began free-diving with her father and brother when she was 3 years old. As a child, she shared her mother's love of Esther Williams and was once kicked out of a swimming class because she was more interested in watching races from the bottom of the pool than following her teacher's instructions.
"I was just much better at sinking than floating," she says.
After moving to Tampa in her teens, Anderson began training for a commercial pilot's license and later worked as a firefighter/EMT in Daytona Beach while moonlighting as a Polynesian dancer. Eventually, she came to South Florida to work at Fort Lauderdale's iconic tiki restaurant, the Mai-Kai. On the side, she booked corporate gigs and birthday parties as the underwater performer MeduSirena — "Medusa" referring to her long, wavy black hair, and "Sirena" for the mythological mermaid.
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Today the Wreck Bar is part of the B Ocean Resort, where Anderson stars in what might be the world's only ongoing burlesque mermaid show. In early 2017, she unveiled her underwater burlesque troupe, which now includes 14 performers. Next year, she will introduce an all-male team she hopes to call the Aquanauts.
Because her performance style is all her own, Anderson says she's never had a true mentor in the field. But that's OK — seeing no one else do what she wanted to, she had no choice but to do it herself.
"Somebody has to start it, and that was it — it was based on what I wished I could see," she says. "If I sat here having a cocktail and I saw somebody doing a burlesque performance underwater, looking comfortable, it would blow my mind."