In the late 1990s, when Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road pedestrian mall was more local boutiques than national chains, a group of South Florida women joined forces with New York event producer Shescape to hold a one-night fundraising dance party atop the Sony building. Torrential rains soaked the roof deck in the hours leading up to the big event, but the local lesbians still showed up, raising $15,000 for two area breast-cancer charities in the process.
Since then, water has become an essential ingredient. Capitalizing on Miami Beach’s bikini-friendly scene, that single event evolved into Aqua Girl in 2000 and is now the largest charity week for queer women in the United States. Fourteen events unfold over five days, May 14 to 18 this year, built around the signature Saturday pool party. Sun-drenched days segue into late-night dance parties, and there are several chill-out activities (brunch, a VIP reception at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden) to ensure that the schedule appeals to women of various ages.
New to the lineup this year are speed dating, karaoke and the aquaSounds concert, featuring The Voice’s Beverly McClellan. All proceeds benefit the not-for-profit Aqua Foundation for Women, which funds programs that support South Florida’s lesbian, bisexual and trans community.
“We’re always trying to keep things fresh, and for the last few years we’ve been toying with the idea of a live music component,” says Robin Schwartz, executive director of the Aqua Foundation for Women. “I’m most excited about aquaSounds. Miami has its own flavour, and I thought it would be really interesting if we brought some of that to Aqua Girl. This concert is all really, really talented local artists who happen to be LGBT. It’s a benefit for our LGBTQ homeless initiative.”
It’s a sizable schedule to navigate for a first-time attendee, so Schwartz offers several tips to make the most of the Aqua Girl experience:
- Stay in the host hotel so you’re in the centre of the action: the oceanfront National Hotel is one of the iconic Art Deco buildings of Miami Beach. Book with code AQUAGROUP2 via email reservations or phone; the discount is not available online.
- Saturday’s Aqualicious Pool Party is the star of the weekend, drawing some 2,000 women. Admission is guaranteed only until 1pm, because it always hits capacity. Arrive when doors open at 11am for any hope of claiming a spot for your towel — or do it the Miami VIP way and book a poolside cabana with bottle service.
- The aquaSounds concert and Temptation dance party are at the train-station-turned-club Grand Central on the mainland, between downtown Miami and its burgeoning Wynwood arts district. Take some time to explore the funky galleries and outdoor cafés in the area. There’s more to Miami than the beach.
- Check the Aqua Girl dress code online for the nightclub events; Miami’s venues aren’t styled for baggy jeans and ball caps.
- Take a walk down Lincoln Road, Miami Beach’s café- and retail-laden pedestrian mall, if only for the people watching. It’s worth it.
“There are two things,” Schwartz says, “that make Aqua Girl different from other women’s events: the location — we’re in beautiful Miami Beach — and the money’s going to a great cause.”