FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Ariel may have dreamed of a life on land and trading her fins in for feet, but Gabriella Atanossian can’t wait to spend her days underwater.

The 22-year-old has always been interested in mermaids, ever since she watched the 1989 Disney movie “The Little Mermaid.”

“I used to sit on the sofa and pretend I was underwater,” she said.

But as soon as she realized she could make a life out of donning a tail and seashell bra and underwater flips, Atanossian had found her calling.

“There are so many different options to make (this) fantasy come to life,” she said.

Hannah Fraser, who Atanossian says is the biggest celebrity in the mermaid community, served as the Mount Airy resident’s inspiration. After watching all of Mermaid Hannah’s underwater work on YouTube, Atanossian realized being a professional “fish” would be the perfect way for her dreams to come true.

Between job hunting and working on her crafts and art projects, Atanossian spends her time swimming — lots of swimming. It’s the best way to train as a mermaid, she said.

“It takes some fortitude to jump into a public pool in a tail,” she said.

The longtime swimmer trains at least three or four times a week at the Hood College pool, where she gets a lot of attention.

“So far, everybody I meet have been tickled; they adore it,” Atanossian said.

The little mermaid’s family is still baffled, said her mother, Chris Pennewill. But they are all supportive, especially Pennewill, who is Atanossian’s manager.

Her daughter has always been like this, Pennewill said.

“(Gabriella) dreams really big,” she said. “She is really good at finding a way to make things happen.”

On hiatus from being a mermaid, Atanossian is training at the moment without her usual bright orange and yellow tail, since a piece of the fin recently broke while she was swimming. She is eagerly awaiting a new $1,300 custom-made tail, worthy of the Hollywood mermaid treatment. She makes her own costume tops and accessories, built out of seashells, flowers and netting.

Atanossian, with her background in belly dancing, is used to performing in heavy, cumbersome costumes, and said she has no problem swimming in full mermaid garb.

Her interactive show is like trying to perform ballet underwater, she said, and holding her breath while flipping and twisting is an incredible workout.

“It’s about becoming so comfortable that it looks like you were always (in the water),” she said. The most important aspect of performing is keeping the illusion that she is a fantastical creature, something other than human.

The job market for mermaids isn’t enormous, but Atanossian hopes to work on cruise ships, or at aquariums or resorts.

“I would be most happy to be in a tank at some fancy restaurant,” she said.

For now, Atanossian will have to settle for performing with Fraser in August at the first World Mermaid Awards in Las Vegas.

“The convention is a really big deal,” she said.

Although just getting started in the mermaid industry, Atanossian is hoping she can turn the event into a networking opportunity. But she is just excited to be a part of the convention, performing next to her idol.

“If anyone can succeed and make it her own, she will,” Pennewill said.

Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post,

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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