By EDDIE CELAYA
If the late-1980s smash hit “The Little Mermaid” is to be believed, “flapping your fins, you don’t get too far.”
Tell that to former Pima Community College student Emy Higdon.
Higdon holds an associate of applied science in business, with a concentration in marketing. Odette holds court over the dry rivers and lakebeds of the Sonoran Desert.
Who is Odette? That would be Higdon’s part-time alter ego, Mermaid Odette. The character came into being at an intersection of creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.
Higdon traces Mermaid Odette’s genesis to her childhood.
“As a kid, I was always really creative,” she said. “Super creative, really.”
She needed an outlet, and found a Tucson performance space known for being off the beaten path.
“I volunteered at Valley of the Moon, and that place sparked my imagination to a new level,” she said.
Her first visit planted the idea for adopting a mermaid alter ego.
“I got to help someone make a tail for a show,” she said. “It was just made of a simple, silvery kind of weird fabric, but it just kind of sparked from there.”
She created Mermaid Odette in 2009, and took the character public soon after. Coincidentally, her first performance happened to be at Valley of the Moon.
“It was a screening of a movie,” she said. “I had a little inflatable pool near the witches’ cauldron area and would splash my fin and get on top of the cement wall and flick my tail at the kids and they would smile at me. So after that I was like, ‘yep, I’m hooked.’”
Parties and other events soon followed.
One happy parent, Jenni Sunshine, happily recounts her 8-year-old daughter’s birthday party in an online review.
“She told interesting stories and answered their every question,” Sunshine wrote. “Perhaps even more important is that Mermaid Odette is a delightful woman who I trust to set exactly the right tone with kids.”
Though she loved doing birthday parties, Higdon felt she needed something. She changed her major from veterinary science and began to focus on business.
“A lot of different classes gave me the best foundation,” she said. “Accounting was absolutely perfect.”
Classes at Pima helped “clarify different parts of how you present yourself and what kind of business you’re looking for and your target audience,” she said.
Those lessons helped Higdon grow her business. They also helped with developing Return of the Mermaids, an annual event held in downtown Tucson and along the Fourth Avenue entertainment district.
“I was their head mermaid entertainer for years and I am super thankful for being a part of it,” she said.
The event has grown each year since its inception in 2013.
“I remember the first year, out of nowhere, just some people coming in to see me splash my tail and then going around to other places,” she said. “Every year I see more and more people and it’s so amazing to see all the different costumes.”
And while Higdon continues focusing on business while seeking a bachelor’s degree from Northern Arizona University, Odette will continue offering performances that make people of all ages believe.
“I’ve always had a want to build some sort of character that was unique, fun, interesting,” Higdon said. “The whole point is to give the experience that will make the customer the most happy, that will be the most memorable.”