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Video: The Mermaid Academy. UCF students wear tails and teach people how to be mermaids. Video by Arnold Godoy, Central Florida Future Arnold Godoy

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They may not be real mermaids, but these young girls certainly look the part when they don their colorful tails and cut through the water during class at the Mermaid Academy here in Orlando.

The Mermaid Academy came to the Central Florida area in October 2013 and offers classes on how to be a prince or princess of the sea.

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Children as young as 2 years old have taken the one-hour class, during which they rent a mermaild tail and swim through the water. The class, which is usually geared toward children, includes hula hoop diving, treasure diving and an open swim. Older students can skip the hula hoop diving and go straight to the open swim. The academy doesn't only offer mermaid tails — it also has shark fins and mono-fins for boys to swim with.

The owner of the Mermaid Academy, Joe O'Rourke, said the inspiration for the academy came from his 8-year-old daughter Helen.

His daughter wanted a mermaid tail and they found one online, and then came to Orlando on vacation.

While they were here, his daughter went in a pool with her mermaid tail and he said the kids there went crazy for it.

"They all wanted to know where we got it," O'Rourke said. "And it just got us to thinking, is this something we could do for a business?"

Even as O'Rourke spoke near the pool, little girls came up asking about the fins and wondering how they could be mermaids.

Seeing reactions that first time with his daughter made him see the potential that a business like this could have. O'Rourke began taking steps to start bringing the Mermaid Academy to hotels in Orlando.

After much planning, O'Rourke and his family moved to Florida and hired his first employee to work with the Mermaid Academy: UCF student Saige Popson.

O'Rourke said Popson almost didn't get the job because of a missed call, but once they got her out to interview, they knew she was a keeper.

Popson's involvement brought more UCF students to work as mermaids with the academy. She first got her roommate involved and then that roommate got one of her friends to be a mermaid, as well.

Formerly a lifeguard, Popson teaches people to use the mermaid tails. However, using the tails is hard and requires a lot of core work. The students are initially taught how to land properly with the fins to make it easier for them to propel themselves through the water.

"How rewarding it is … to make these guys smile. You can tell they all just want to be mermaids," Popson said. "That's the best part of this job — being able to make them happy, and get[ting] to see them and have fun with them all day."

Maddy Shafar is a sophomore nursing major who also works as a mermaid. She found out about the job when her friend took a mermaid tail to the pool.

"I decided to apply because every little girl dreamed about being a mermaid and I could potentially do it as my job," Shafar said.

And now every little girl can fulfill her dreams of living life under the sea.

For information on how to join the Mermaid Academy contact Joe O'Rourke at 855-407-0803 or email info@themermaidacademy.com

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Read or Share this story: http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/story/news/2014/09/17/ucf-students-don-tails-orlandos-mermaid-academy/15789931/