Players bounce at Bubble Soccer Halifax’s debut

An all-day tournament on Saturday marked the first appearance of bubble soccer in the Maritimes.

Bubble Soccer Halifax made its Maritime debut this weekend in the gym of Armbrae Academy. Fourteen teams suited up for a tournament that went all day Saturday.

The sound of squeaking sneakers and laughter filled the gym, along with the occasional thud of a teammate and their bubble bouncing off the ground.

Groups of 10 signed up for 40 minute games throughout the day. The groups were then split into two teams and each player squeezed into their respective bubble and began a bouncy game of indoor soccer.

Colleen Armstrong gathered a team of friends to play at the inaugural event. By the end of the second half, all players were sweaty and carefree.

“It was so much fun,” said Armstrong. “The best part is the first time you get hit. You just go flying through the air, and then you realize you’re not going to get hurt.”

“Well, not too badly,” added Dana Hodgins another player on Armstrong’s team.

Players ran around the gym bouncing off each other and the walls, stopping every once in a while for fresh air and rest.

Tim Tanner poses beside his bubble at the end of a fun game. (Photo: Caora McKenna).
Tim Tanner poses beside his bubble at the end of a fun game. (Photo: Caora McKenna).

Patrick Toupin — the man behind the bubbles — had seen videos on the Internet of people playing bubble soccer. Being a soccer player his whole life, he wanted a chance to play.

“It just seemed like a good fit for me,” said Toupin.

When he discovered there was nowhere in the Maritimes to play, he started researching different products. Last month he bought his own fleet of bubbles and started the small business: Bubble Soccer Halifax.

Toupin decided to start the business to compensate for the cost of the bubbles, which are $400 each. “If I can spread the game and maybe make a little on the side that would be great,” he said.

Marianne Parent, Toupin’s girlfriend, was unsure of the idea at first but let him run with it. “We’ll see how it goes,” she said. “So far I’m really impressed.”

Toupin’s background in engineering led him to research and buy the best quality bubbles for his small business. He could tell that the product was new because of the “material science behind it.” He said that “for it to be strong and clear and also not smell makes a big difference.”

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Even though the bubbles were clear plastic, Tim Tanner, another player on Armstrong’s team, still had difficulty seeing. However, he said that reduced visibility added to the fun.

“You’re kind of like a deer in headlights, but then you just get hit and bounce back,” said Tanner.

Toupin hopes to start up a summer league and rent out the bubbles for birthday parties and events.

As word of this new sport spreads, Bubble Soccer Halifax’s website and Facebook page remain the place to stay up to date on upcoming events.

Raina the Mermaid splashes her way to success

How a “fish out of water” became a mermaid entertainer, educator and entrepreneur.

Raina the Mermaid’s exquisite custom-made orange mermaid tail hangs over the edge of her underwater stage at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Children in the front row huddle around it in awe.

“Look mommy, a real live mermaid,” shouts a nine-year-old girl.

Raina starts off an afternoon of educational entertainment with some underwater music from her friend’s “shell phone” and a flap of her tail.

A photo posted by Raina Mermaid (@hfxmermaid) on

The real live mermaid

A lot of work goes into making appearances on land and in water when you work full time in the mermaid industry.

It takes 30 minutes from start to finish to wiggle into the tail, gather the appropriate amount of seaweed for your hair, apply rare sea jewels and give yourself that underwater glow.

Stephanie Brown, the entrepreneur behind Raina the Mermaid, has it down to a science.

“How many people get to wake up every day and go ‘this is my life, it’s so cool’?” said Brown. “I’m a mermaid. This is my real job.”

Raina’s tail comes all the way from California. Its state of the art draining technology, fiberglass fins and custom painted orange silicone cost the pretty price of around $4,000.

When she’s not performing underwater for birthday parties, music videos, or educating children on land, she’s managing her businesses: Halifax Mermaids, Atlantic Mermaids and Canadian Mermaids.

Brown turned her background in teaching and love of mermaids into something quite unique. She has managed to find a way to do what she loves, and “not in the traditional sense.”

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The rabbit hole of mermaid culture

In the midst of the pressures of getting her degree in teaching, dealing with chronic pain, and being diagnosed with a learning disability, in 2007 Brown found herself “falling down the rabbit hole of mermaid culture.”

“At that time I didn’t think it would be a business,” said Brown. “I just thought it would be an amazing experience that I just wanted to take part in.”

Her first tail was plain and impractical, and her first time in the water “wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped it would be,” said Brown. “I had never taken into consideration that I was a terrible swimmer.”

By 2009 Brown had a new tail and was performing at birthday parties and doing some photography.

Brown says her professors had warned her about the difficulty of getting a teaching job upon graduating, but she always thought it would work out.

“It was very hard to give up the idea of being a classroom teacher,” she said.

Things started moving quickly after Brown made the decision to commit herself to the mermaid business.

“What started off with a garbage bag and a tail and a girl who couldn’t swim,” said Brown, has now “hit us like a wave.”

Mermaids: the new craze

“We like to joke that mermaids are the new vampires in the mer-world,” said Brown. “Ten years ago you couldn’t even find a book about us other than The Little Mermaid.”

Brown has published two books about how to be a mermaid and her own journey.

When Brown is not performing she’s teaching mermaid hopefuls or handling the business aspect of being a professional mermaid. Her mermaid business is growing so quickly she’s applied to the ADP small business grant contest for $10,000 this month in hopes of being able to keep up with demand.

“We’re hoping to buy a portable tank,” said Brown. “It would make our on-land gigs that much better.”

Information, imagination and inspiration have been part of Brown’s vision for Halifax Mermaids from the beginning.

The fusion of education and entertainment enables Brown to teach children about myths and legends surrounding mermaids from around the world, as well as the importance of protecting our oceans from plastic waste.

“Children learn best through play experience,” said Brown. “The imaginative world of mermaids can teach children information in a new and exciting way.”

In her case, the inspiration comes in the form of a tail.

“Even the world’s worst swimmer can put on a mermaid tail and feel like they are becoming this imaginative creature,” said Brown. “You get to slip into this other world which is so empowering.”

Tales and tails

Appearances like the one this week at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic are all part of Brown’s busy mermaid life.

Hundreds of children have been lining up to meet Raina after every session at the museum. They smile for a photo and wait for a personalized postcard from a real live mermaid.

Jenny Nodelman, marketing and events officer at the museum, says Raina’s presence ties in to their efforts to educate museum patrons about the sea, including legends and myths. She says many parents are happy to see their children so enthusiastic.

“Children are coming dressed up as mermaids and pirates,” said Nodelman.

Austin Wright poses with his postcard from Raina. (Photo: Caora McKenna)
Austin Wright poses with his postcard from Raina. (Photo: Caora McKenna)

Austin Wright was excited to see Raina the Mermaid. “I’ve never seen one before,” he said. “I like mermaids because they like to swim and I like to swim.”

Austin’s older sister, Kayla, says she likes mermaids because they “are very rare, and have tails and fins.”

Nodelman is happy that thanks to Raina, children and families are having fun at the museum.

“Hopefully it changes the mindset of young ones and families to see that the museum is a community space for families as well as a place of history and heritage,” said Nodelman.

For Brown, the fact that there are so many children excited about the mermaid world makes it all worth it.

Womb Boom’s drums beat on International Women’s Day

Womb Boom, a group of female hip-hop drummers, performed at the Bus Stop Theatre to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Driven by the steady beat of a drum, women of all ages and backgrounds danced, tapped, sang and jammed at the Bus Stop Theatre on Sunday to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Womb Boom, a group of female hip-hop drummers, showed off what they had learned in the past months as they led the jam.

The group is a pilot project of the Music Liberatory School which is “aimed at dramatically increasing the number of female instrumentalists by providing free music education, with emphasis on developing and maintaining the cultural leadership of women of colour,” according to the online Kijiji ad for the drumming group.

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Tamar Dina, founder of the school, began the afternoon leading a kitchen table discussion about women and their experiences in music.

Shari Clarke played the violin and flute during Womb Boom’s jam session.

“It’s about the focus on women and creativity,” said Clarke. “It’s a fabulous gathering place for us to meet and share our creativity and celebrate who we are.”

Dina talked about her inspiration for the project and the school, and why women’s presence in music is so important.

“When I was thinking about what could change the world,” said Dina, “I settled on the idea that I want to do the thing now that I wish will still be happening in a transformed society.

“That’s true about music.”

Dina’s vision

Dina’s experience working in crisis centres dealing with issues of violence against women shaped her vision for the Music Liberatory School.

“A lot of women don’t have a means to deal with violence immediately,” said Dina. “So the way they usually deal with it is self destruction.”

The steady beat of the drum, and the easy, accessible way to be a part of that sound, became the foundation of the pilot project.

They began with percussion and drums “because that’s your fundamentals in music,” said Dina.

“When women are first coming together on the drum, we’re not using words yet,” she said. “We’re just expressing our experiences through rhythm.

“Then, as we get more comfortable and we’re willing to trust each other more … Then those stories can start turning into songs.”

The core group of five to eight people, with more than 20 women loosely connected, meet weekly at the George Dixon Centre.

Childcare provided on-site

Childcare is provided, which enables women, especially single mothers, who would have usually stayed home to come out and drum. This is one thing that separates them from other music programs, along with Womb Boom’s emphasis on a high standard of music.

“With a lot of music programs the emphasis is on progress,” said Dina.

“This is a feminist art project,” she said. “We are constantly trying to improve our music intellectually and musically so that it can be effective.”

The International Women’s Day event at The Bus Stop Theatre showed off that high standard of music, while the simple beat of the drum kept the music accessible to all women in the room.

Alexis Smith is a talented bass player and musician. She brought that fusion of quality and effectiveness with passion and meaning to Womb Boom’s jam.

“For me, it’s all creative for the mind,” said Smith. “And it’s just good for the spirit.”