Rockaway, Meet the Queens

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 Rockaway, the queens have arrived. Over the past few months, drag queens have started to become a highlight of local nightlife, from ringing in the New Year with fabulous song and dance performances, to putting a blazing new twist on bingo and even promoting local businesses, Rockaway’s Queens have made it known that they’re here, and with one duo, the Rockaway Babes, kicking off a new residency at Whit’s End, they’ve made it clear that they’re here to stay.

When the man behind the voluptuous, sassy, yet sweet queen, Ginger Ladd, moved to Rockaway about six years, he had dabbled with drag in his past, and it wasn’t until he found local inspiration that he thought maybe he, and Rockaway, were ready to let Ginger Ladd free.

“The person that I have to credit in Rockaway for giving me a sign that it would be okay—was Miss Colombia,” Ginger Ladd said. “I had met her a couple times and though we didn’t have a close relationship, I would see her living her truth and after she passed away and seeing the subsequent reaction to her loss by Rockaway, I realized there was a lot more love than I thought out here. I thought maybe it was time.”

Soon the perfect opportunity presented itself with an event that celebrates everything a drag queen represents—creativity, art, performance and diversity. Ginger Ladd decided to make her debut at last year’s Poseidon’s Parade.

“What better time than a parade that was celebrating diversity and love like Poseidon’s Parade to come out,” she said. When Ginger Ladd gained the support of her new neighbors in Arverne By The Sea, who had coordinated as a sea of jellyfish to surround Ginger Ladd with colorful choreography, the decision was made even easier.

And it was the response to the voluptuous woman in a sparkly green dress and a pink wig during the parade, that gave her the reassurance that Rockaway was not only ready for drag, but supportive.

“I felt like I was flying. It was incredibly wonderful after all this time thinking about it, to finally feel this rush of performance and the love from the people that enjoy it,” Ginger Ladd said.

Her husband, Mister Ladd, noticed it too. “I was blown away by Poseidon’s Parade. People were lining up, you had parents bringing their kids over, older women wanting to see her, biker guys in their 40s wanting pictures—it was across the board. Everyone was laughing and smiling, and it was like walking around with Mickey Mouse. There was this universal response of joy and it’s been like that every time,” Mister Ladd said.

Not only did Ginger Ladd and her group of jellies earn an award for best block at the parade, but Ginger Ladd was given the gift of knowing that she could be her true self in her hometown.

Ginger Ladd slowly started making more appearances, from participating in Blaze It Bingo at the Rockaway Brewing Company to even promoting local businesses like Vino by the Sea. Ginger Ladd’s presence was also starting to get noticed. By November, Cuisine by Claudette had created a cookie inspired by the drag queen herself and added it to the regular menu. According to Mister Ladd, it sells out so frequently that even he has trouble finding them in stock. Having a cookie made to her likeness was a clear sign that Rockaway had embraced Ginger Ladd. “I kept getting these signs—the cookie, being invited to host events—it was clear that they wanted drag here. The Rockaways have surpassed any of my expectations for the joy they’ve received and returned,” Ginger Ladd said.

It wasn’t long before Ginger Ladd realized that she was in good company and that she wasn’t the only queen in town. “I met Dreama Belle at the Rockaway Brewing Company and I felt this instant connection to her. She was frank and open and honest, and I was really attracted to that beautiful spirit,” Ginger Ladd said, immediately becoming inspired by this other queen who although new to Rockaway, had been doing drag professionally for about six years. On Halloween, both Ginger Ladd and Dreama Belle performed among other drag queens at a special event at the Brewery and realized it could be the start of something big to come.

Together, they went on to make more appearances, from doing more bingo events, to doing a surprise pop-up at Vino by the Sea’s anniversary party at Whit’s End in December, and the positive response made them realize maybe there was something more to this.

“Dreama is a beauty and she’s smart, courageous and one of the biggest businesswomen that I know,” Ginger Ladd said. “We went out to eat and said we would work together in some capacity and Dreama came up with this concept of becoming a unit and bringing quality drag to the Rockaways.”

The concept of Rockaway Babes was born.

Receiving such a warm reception from Whitney Aycock of Whit’s End, the duo thought it would be a good idea to team up with him to help support his business, while having a venue to provide regular, quality entertainment. Dreama Belle came up with a professional business proposal for Rockaway Babes and presented it to Aycock, who was immediately open to the idea. “I walked in the door and sat down with him and 60 seconds later, he said, ‘alright, what date do you want?’ He was on board without even looking at the full proposal,” Dreama Belle said.

 “Whit is a gentleman and a professional and full of love and he recognized that we could be an asset to him. We will have a residency and will regularly perform our shows there. It’s incredibly rare to have someone treat you that well and immediately be an ally,” Ginger Ladd said about Aycock.

That kindness was also extended by Mikal Hameed, owner of Rustwoods, located behind Whit’s End, who offered the Rockaway Babes their own space to set up as a dressing room to prepare for their shows.

On Friday, January 17, the Rockaway Babes will make their official residency debut at Whit’s End, where they hope to perform monthly. The night will begin at 6 p.m. with a family-friendly show, appropriate for all ages, until 8 p.m. Starting at 9 p.m., the show will get a little more “spicy,” according to the Rockaway Babes. In a rare occurrence, Whit’s End is taking reservations for tables for the event. (Call 718-945-4100). However, those who just want to come watch either show can for just a $5 cover.

Without giving too much away, the Rockaway Babes say Friday’s show will include production numbers, duets, story numbers, Disney tributes, incredible costuming and incredible production value. “I’m aiming to make it as close to a Vegas-quality performance level as I can,” Ginger Ladd said, adding that she’ll be pulling out all the stops beyond just fabulous costumes and wigs. The show will also include guest queen, Tina Twirler, a known contortionist in the New York drag scene. By the end of the night, the Rockaway Babes hope their audience mirrors what they reflect. “You’re going to feel good about yourself. You’re going to feel joy and laugh, and you might even get to know your neighbors,” she said.

For those who can’t make it, don’t fret. The Rockaway Babes say they’re just getting started. In addition to their residency at Whit’s, where they plan to perform regularly at least once a month, plus holiday shows at the Rockaway Brewing Company and pop-ups at other local businesses, the Rockaway Babes say they have big plans for the summer and may make frequent appearances on the boardwalk and at the concessions.

“We’re in Rockaway because there’s a need for it. We’re filling a void that needed to be filled and we’re doing a service that a lot of folks in Rockaway want,” Dreama Bell said. “It’s something many in Rockaway didn’t know they wanted,” Ginger Ladd added.

With drag shows being a relatively new phenomenon for Rockaway, the Rockaway Babes explained what drag is, and what is isn’t, for those who may not have experienced it before. “Drag is the art of transformation in its barest form. And it’s the art of theater. For folks that aren’t as liberal in their thinking, if you can convey it in a way that this is a theater performance, a lot more people are willing to experience it,” Dreama Belle said. “We are not strippers. We are not doing sex work. We’re not burlesque dancers. We’re just giving a fun show.”

“What it is, is a good time,” Ginger Ladd said. “It’s something to break the mundane. It’s not watching Netflix or simply going to the bar to get drunk—it’s having an experience that you haven’t had before. It’s very exciting to watch.”

For those experiencing a show for the first time, it should be known that tips are encouraged. The Rockaway Babes advise that audience members respect their performance space, but if you’re enjoying the show, hold out a bill, and they’ll come to you.

The Rockaway Babes believe there are good things ahead for the future of drag in Rockaway.

“I think that the Rockaways are going to be heaven for drag,” Ginger Ladd said. “This started with just marching in a parade with my neighbors and all of a sudden, there’s been this sea of change in this community, which I think values our entertainment.”

“We are truly here to stay. We are here for this community, we’re going to be relevant here and help build this community and we’re going to continue the positive flow of what we’ve been doing,” Dreama Belle said. “We’ve had a lot of great support and it makes it a lot easier when you have people supporting you.”

If you’d like to find out the Rockaway Babes’ next steps, be sure to follow them on Instagram at @DreamaBelleOfficial, @TheGingerLadd and @RockawayBabes.

 Note: Out of respect to the privacy of the Queens, only their drag names were used.

 By Katie McFadden

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