Find Your Inner Ariel at MERMAID SCHOOL


Weekend childrens’ classes are Westgate’s latest “outside the box”…

Going through my daily round of press release emails is a lot like attacking the pile of presents under the Christmas tree. Some of them I can’t wait to open up (“Chippendales Announces Latest Guest Host”). Others feel obligatory…like a Visa gift card from the mother-in-law (“Hash House A Go Go Introduces New Cocktail, Extends Happy Hour).

Then there are the ones that stink like rotten fish and get tossed into the garbage without opening (“Chris Brown Returns to Drai’s Nightclub”, “Mariah Carey Announces Christmas Show at Caesars Palace”). But my favorite emails are the ones that have you scratching your head in wonder. Things like “Learn To Be A Mermaid at Westgate Las Vegas”. Seriously?

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

Regular readers know that bringing the children to Vegas is one of my biggest pet peeves. But Westgate is a different kind of resort. A privately-held timeshare company, their twenty-eight locations cater to families around the country. Of them, only the Vegas location on Paradise Road has a casino (and a topless revue).

Naturally there is crossover of timeshare owners with kids, so Westgate Las Vegas offers a limited selection of entertainment and activities that appeal to the little ones. Shows like Magic of Jen Kramer…and Dirk Arthur before her. Dining at the glorious gardens of Benihana Village. And yes, weekend mermaid classes.

I’ll admit to initially being tempted to toss this press release into the trash folder. But “only in Vegas” experiences should be treasured. So after a long night of partying with the guys, I donned my shades and took the elevator down to Westgate’s expansive third-floor pool deck to meet Mermaid Farasha and the little ones who had lined up for that morning’s class.

Mermaid Farasha DesertSiren goes by the name of Farasha Millner when in human form. A professional belly dancer and mermaid performer, Ms. Farasha travels with her mobile tank and seashell to entertain, educate and promote the “Mermaid Code of Ethics”. In other words, she’s a positive role model for youngsters…and anyone in need of a little course correction through the sea of life.

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

I was able to briefly meet Mermaid Farasha before the morning’s class and she was indeed glowing with compliments and positive vibes. “Oooh, you give off a great energy” she cooed in my ear. “You’d make a great mer-man”. Yes, I really was blushing.

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

Although the Desert Siren was eager to begin, one fledgling mermaid had already been waiting long before anyone else arrived. Nine year old Carson Parker of Florida was up at the crack of dawn…and ready to slip into her fin.

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

Accompanied by great aunt Becky Knowles (left) and aunt Kelli Wilkin, Carson was staying at Westgate while mother Melissa Parker, the reigning Mrs. Florida America, was competing in the Mrs. America Pageant. That event was being held the same weekend at the off-Strip resort.

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

With her mother in rehearsal for the evening’s show, Carson was eager to learn some new tricks in the water. As fortunes would have it, Carson was already an avid mermaid-er. Adept at doing front flips, she regularly practices at the family’s pool in Melbourne.

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

Word had gotten out to Vegas locals about the new classes, too. Seven-year-old Dionni signed up after her mother Tavia heard about Mermaid School from a Facebook friend…who in turn saw a piece on local station KTNV. She proudly posed with her new mermaid fin and couldn’t wait to begin.

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          Seven year old Dionni was eager to go “Under The Sea” in Mermaid School…

Also attending that weekend was Abbie Losch, aka “Mermaid Coral”. You may remember Abbie as the adventurous daughter of Westgate’s own superstar Chef Aaron Losch, whom I profiled earlier this year.

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                   Abbie Losch makes a striking mermaid at Westgate’s pool…

Inside the pool’s merchandise shop, other youngsters were lining up to buy or rent their fins. Some were singing from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”, whose soundtrack would soon be playing over and over (and over) on speakers during the morning’s lessons.

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

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The class began with a preliminary introduction and explanation of basics for the newbies. The students were assisted in learning to don and stand in their fins. Then came introductions all around. The young ladies were asked to choose a personal mermaid name, then the real fun began.

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

After a brief absence, the Desert Siren returned to the pool in full mermaid regalia and shimmied into the pool. Along with showing her students new maneuvers, Farasha emphasized the importance of support, encouragement and respect for each other and one’s own self.

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

“You’re in control. You are beautiful. In the mermaid’s world we support one another” she told them. The students learned how to tread water, give a “tail salute” and speak seafaring lingo like “Shello!”. But most of all, they learned how to be feminine, graceful and kind. “There’s so much you can do with this. You are a Mer!”.

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

As the class wound down, curious onlookers came over to see what Mermaid School was all about and pose for pictures. Then a young boy swam over to chat to Mermaid Farasha about being a mer-man. “I love your British accent, handsome!”. Yes, the classes are open to boys as well.

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If interest continues to grow, there’s a possibility of adding adult groups into the mix. And why not? Apparently this is a new social movement. Mermaid Schools are popping up all over the country. And they’re a nice fit to Westgate’s other poolside offerings like sunrise yoga classes (Friday-Sunday from 7 am to 8 am, weather permitting) and the Silent Savana sunset sessions I told you about here.

Despite Farasha‘s suggestion that I try on the fins myself, I’ll leave that kind of fun to the younger guests. I’ll be content just to sip a fireball mojito and watch the activities from The Playground, Westgate’s 21-and-up dayclub that I told you about here.

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      Kate’s Island Shop at Westgate’s retail corridor has gotten into the mermaid spirit…

That’s what’s so great about Sin City. There’s something for every taste. And just when you think you’ve seen and done it all, another WTF press release will appear in your in-box. Let’s hope the next one isn’t “Mariah Carey Extends Latest Residency”. There’s got to be a limit to the madness!

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

All participants agreed to being interviewed and their guardians signed waivers for press coverage…

Tickets for Mermaid Class are available at Serenity Spa at Westgate’s 3rd floor pool deck. Call 702-732-5648 to purchase tickets by phone. Classes are capped at 15 students.

  • Ages: 7-12. [Participants must know how to swim/parent or guardian must be present during the duration of the class and sign Mermaid School waiver.]

  • Price: $25.00 per class

  • Dates/Time: Saturdays & Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. 

Photos: Sammasseur, Jamie Losch

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“Racy Magazine” Protest Exposes Sin City Parents as Hypcocrites


Outraged residents object to publication’s presence near libraries…

You know, there are certain subjects that push my buttons…REALLY HARD. Judgmental parents with conveniently-fluctuating standards of morality is certainly one of those matters. Something of that nature was brought to my attention recently. I want to tell you about it. And why I feel the way I do.

Racy Magazine Library Protest

My frustrations regarding this complaint are actually two-fold. On the surface, my skin crackles at the behavior of parents who feel that having children somehow grants them the position of Moral Compass Overseer. And deep down, my stomach knots up at the notion that anyone would find sexy material unacceptable in a place known as Sin City.

Racy Magazine Library Protest

Last evening I attended a performance of Zombie Burlesque with a friend who recently moved here. During a striptease number, he leaned over and commented at how odd it was that ladies were required to wear pasties during the show. He clearly was under the impression that “anything goes” in Las Vegas. But that is far from the truth, which he’ll continue to learn as he settles into the community.

In 2018’s corporation-run Las Vegas, you never know when the next “adult” behavior will be frowned upon, restricted…or eliminated altogether. For instance, a 2014 law was passed to prohibit drinking booze from open cans and bottles on the Fremont Street pedestrian mall.

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The move was made to supposedly protect everyone from injuries related to fights and such. But would this really have come to pass if so many parents hadn’t decided in recent years to bring their little ones to “Glitter Gulch”? You can still get drunk and dance in front of the stages, but now you’ve got to watch out for those four-year-olds who are right there by your knees at one in the morning. Because, you know, every tourist destination has to cater to children.

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You may recall how incensed I was recently when Palms Casino deemed it unacceptable for a group of athletic male show performers to gather at their poolside cafe for lunch…because they’d be shirtless most of the time (for photos and such). What a ridiculous stance, especially in a town that promises sin, smut, excess and discretion for all types of adult activities. #LasVegasHypocrisy, if you will.

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Don’t promise debauchery then pull your panties high and tight, Las Vegas. That statement is targeted at specific residents of the city…those who choose to raise their children here. There are fifty states in our Union and thousands of cities and small towns across the nation. But YOU chose to raise your little ones here. You know, the place where mobile billboards offer women directly to your room. So why are you suddenly so prim, proper, conservative and offended when an adult-skewing magazine is found on the racks in public places?

Racy Magazine Library Protest

“I’m shocked. It shouldn’t be here. There’s a school right across the street”. So says Phillip Castillo, a resident speaking on-camera to KTNV, the local ABC affiliate that’s stoking the fires on this non-controversy. Joining him with her expressions of revulsion was Angelica Torres, whose seven-year-old comes to the library to learn about life on this big blue marble.

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Well, Ms. Torres, your little daughter is in luck. The issue you’re so worked up over hails the talents of Noel Dahl, a highly-respected local photographer. If your child happened to be scouring, unsupervised, through the racks of magazines near the door of the county library and picked up that January issue of Las Vegas Night Beat, she might have learned all about this amazing man and his philanthropic work for the community you live in.

Racy Magazine Library Protest

      Noel Dahl (in tuxedo) is inadvertently at the center of a controversy….

While I researched the TV segment for this article, Mr. Dahl was in the process of donning his tuxedo to host a fundraiser for Golden Rainbow. That’s an organization providing housing, education and direct financial assistance to men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS in Southern Nevada.

Racy Magazine Library Protest

          Photographer Noel Dahl and others serving food to the homeless…

No doubt Mr. Dahl’s heart was a little heavy after having been metaphorically dragged through the mud right before bedtime on his own television set. Nevertheless, the day after the fundraiser, he was back to business as usual. While those parents were probably rinsing out their offspring’s eyes with peroxide and painting picket signs for a protest march at the library, Noel was spending his Valentine’s Day distributing meals to the homeless in one of the city’s parks.

Racy Magazine Library Protest

I myself am no stranger to Noel Dahl’s work. Last year I purchased and proudly displayed a calendar that he annually photographs and distributes to raise funds for AFAN (Aid for AIDS of Nevada). Noel donates 100 percent of the proceeds to this cause.

Throughout my years as a photographer, I have had the privilege of shooting countless men for my own portfolio, but I have always strived to find a way of utilizing my photography skills to give back to the Las Vegas community. I hope to make a change with this project. I hope to bring together local talent, the photographer community, and with the help of a few graciously supportive company sponsorships, I hope to rally support for the HIV/AIDS community and unite the LGBT community in Las Vegas.

Racy Magazine Library Protest

Here’s the kicker – it features sexy men in provocative poses. And that’s what these up-in-arms parents aren’t taking the time to absorb or acknowledge…that sex appeal can be channeled for great purposes. While Ms. Torres was on camera exclaiming “I see a lot of nudes. And flesh…skin…crack!”, she was simultaneously suggesting that the human body is something to be reviled…and completely misses the point.

Racy Magazine Library Protest

      A Vegas parent readies “Bobby” for an afternoon at the local playground…

I can’t help wondering if Mr. Castillo, the outraged father, ever visits Erotic Heritage Museum where the Golden Rainbow fundraiser was held this week. Does he drive around town with his daughter in the car? What exactly do Vegas parents do with all of this provocative material facing them from every direction? They’re even on billboards that line the roads and highways.

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Racy Magazine Library Protest

Or should I scratch even deeper to ponder whether these frazzled mothers and fathers…and KTNV-TV by extension…are really just upset that these magazines are geared towards the LGBTQ community? If so, that’s just another form of judgmental, bigoted behavior being justified under the guise of “protecting our little ones”, i.e. suggesting that homosexuality is synonymous with pedophilia.

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I’m not sure what makes people think that, because they’ve procreated, they’re immediately granted a higher position in society. It takes no special gifts or skills to make babies. If it did, there wouldn’t be over seven billion of us on this planet. Creating offspring doesn’t make you smarter, more educated or a more worthy person. In fact, it shouldn’t entitle you to anything that parent-free people don’t have.

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It can get unnecessarily ugly when folks protest the freedoms of others within their own community, especially when they do so in public forums like television. We’re living in dangerous times, my friends, and you never know when something you say or do will be misconstrued or used against you down the road.

Thank goodness that the people at Las Vegas-Clark County Library District maintained their heads. A spokesperson addressed the complaint in a fair, professional statement that should hopefully bring this non-issue to a close:

The Library District collects, gathers, and makes available a wide variety of information and we understand that some people may occasionally find these materials offensive or inappropriate. The public library is a First Amendment public institution.

Yes, the Library District is aware of various magazines that are displayed in our lobbies. Our Display Policy, adopted by the Library Board in 1999, allows for free community-based publications that contain news and feature articles relevant to either segments of a district-wide population or to smaller geographic areas within the Library District to be circulated.

The presence of these materials in the Library District is not a form of endorsement. We encourage individuals to form their own opinion about what they choose the read or view.

In this case, the simple act of recognizing the talents and contributions of a gifted photographer has put an entire subculture under the microscope. I have no idea if Noel Dahl and his models are homosexuals…and it’s none of my business. But before citizens of this community…and the media outlets who cover it…decide to vilify other members of society, it might be worth their time to do some research. And a whole lot of self-examination.

Racy Magazine Library Protest

One final thought…if you’re so worried about what your child might pick up around the public areas of Sin City….then keep a better eye on them. It’s YOUR job…nobody else’s.

Photos: Sammasseur, Noel Dahl Studio, Oscareando Vegas, KTNV.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 In Review Part 5: Best and Worst Sights


Most Amazing Sight – Vegas sunrises and sunsets

Most Vegas visitors miss out on the glorious sunrises and sunsets that blanket the Valley in amazing colors and warmth. Do yourself a favor and get up early one morning to experience stunning desert hues as the city comes alive.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Best Worst Vegas 2017

I captured a great moment last week from my suite at Westgate Las Vegas. While snapping the sun peeking over the eastern horizon, the mirrored wall on the opposite side of the room cast my outline in silhouette, and well….see for yourself.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Photographer Greg C. supplied these glorious shots below:

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Most Annoying Sight – Celebrity DJ Billboards

They’re angry, puzzling and look like mugshots after all-night binges. From a leering Diplo to dead-eyed Tiesto to creepy Marshmello (WTF?), these eyesores litter the landscape and dot the highways with their blank stares and zero useful information. If the sight of an IMAX-sized stoned-looking Calvin Harris stirs up your desire to dance….well, I just can’t relate to your tastes in the slightest.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Runner-up – kids on gaming floors, Fremont Street and late at night on the Strip

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Best Worst Vegas 2017