This time last year, only one cloud threatened to cast a shadow over the all-woman, south Florida sun fest that is Aqua Girl: the economy.
The job market remained sketchy, consumers were still holding tight to their hard-earned dollars and organizers of one of the nation’s largest lesbian fundraisers worried it could have a negative affect on the five-day, beachside bacchanal. They were pleasantly surprised.
“We had about 5,000 women last year and it raised about $175,000,” said Robin Schwartz, executive director of the Aqua Foundation for Women, which coordinates the 12-year-old South Beach event.
Organizers hope to match last year’s success when Aqua Girl kicks runs from May 11-15, combining the event’s trademark poolside parties and throngs of bikini-clad cuties with an expanding slate of “cultural” events designed to widen the appeal of the South Beach festival.
“One of the things we’ve been working hard on over the last few years is to expand the types of events we do,” Schwartz said. “Eight years ago it was all just dance parties.”
Now Aqua Girl’s lineup reads less like that of a non-stop circuit party, and more like the schedule of a women’s pride convention. This year’s event will include 14 culturally diverse events, including a bowlathon, jazz brunch, a comedy show and spoken word poetry – the latter a new institution Schwartz thinks will add some creative fun to the mix.
Organizers hope the changes will help increase both attendance and funds raised by 10 percent each. Schwartz held the gradual expansion beyond parties in recent years responsible for a more diverse crowd.
“(When) It started out, it was just local women,” Schwartz said, adding that now patrons hail from as far away as Australia and Germany. “Now we have women who come from not only all over the United States, but from out of the country. They call us months in advance to get the dates because they actually plan their vacation around the event.”
Their dollars go to a good cause. Last year, the foundation gave out 12 scholarships and handed out $80,000 in grants for things like increasing women’s presence in the local film scene and aiding schools in anti-bullying efforts.
But the event also serves as a much-needed outlet for women who may spend their day-to-day lives outside the company of other lesbians. For those women, she said coming to a place as inclusive as Miami is a huge change of pace. This year, the city visitor’s bureau is pairing with Aqua Girl to study the demographics of attendees.
“Imagine you live in a city that is not Miami, where being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is less accepted and you want to be able to socialize,” she said. “That’s why I believe we have more and more women coming from outside the area – they want to have a good time.”
With treats like a tea dance, group workout session and comedy show featuring Suzanne Westenhoefer, there’s no doubt they’ll have plenty of upscale fun. But don’t think Aqua Girl is going staid. “We also have several dance parties as well,” Schwartz said.
If you plan to visit, double your fun by stopping by at Sweet Heat. Now entering its fourth year, the South Beach festival runs May 11-15 and draws a heavily black and Latina crowd.