A dozen South Africans dressed as mermaids and mermen frolic in a Johannesburg pool, mimicking the movement of the mystical sea creatures. Mermaiding is a fast-growing sport worldwide, and now South Africa has its own school to teach it - the "Merschool". Before diving in, students each slip on a brightly colored fabric tail ending in a monofin.

The swimmers are black and white, from 13 years old to in their forties. They include a schoolteacher, a yoga instructor and even an accountant. "It's lots of fun," says mermaiding instructor Izelle Nair. "It's for fitness, it's for fun, it's for fantasy, it's therapy - but most of all, mermaiding is a sport."

In the water, students undulate up and down the pool perfecting their dolphin kicks, or practise sculling - hand movements to propel the body also used in synchronized swimming. "We swim with a dolphin technique and we use sculling, and then we put it all together and we work out a little sequence," Nair says.

Zizwe Ndwandwe, 29, poses for a portrait in her mermaid attire.

To be a mermaid - or merman - all that is required is a little technique, some breath-holding skills and a love of costumes. Underwater, students attempt to perform a graceful aquatic backflip. Nadia Walker, another mermaid coach from the world of synchronized swimming, says both sports have much in common. "The back rolls, some of the warm-ups and activities that we do, come from swimming," she says. The school hopes to send at least one contender to next year's World Mermaid Championships in China - and that one day the discipline will become an Olympic sport. - AFP

Ann Bender, 36, poses for a portrait in her mermaid attire.