Only in Brooklyn: 22nd annual beauty pageant for grandmothers focuses on Eastern European communities

Borough’s history as a haven for immigrants celebrates a multi-generational heritage


The Rolling Stones proclaimed back in 1965 that it’s a drag getting old. However, several babushkas (Russian for grandmothers) at the 22nd annual “Your Highness Grandmother” Pageant, held this past Sunday at the Sky Wise Lounge in Sheepshead Bay, just might disagree with that sentiment.

Shattering the stereotypes of aging, 10 grandmothers from destinations that included Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and Moldova, demonstrated the pep, spryness, and overall love for life more commonly reserved for those decades younger.

Aged 43 to 90 years, the grandmothers competed in various categories, showcasing their performance ability — singing, dancing, and all the while strutting their stuff in an array of colorful and flamboyant costumes.

Participants were divided into two groups based on age.

Galina Baturina, 82, an accountant from Uzbekistan, won in the “Queen Grandmother,” over 77 categories; and attorney Bella Ibragimova, 43, hailing from Kazakhstan, snared the “Grandmother” crown for those ladies 77 years of age and younger.

“This is a dream come true for me — and it has been for the last couple of years,” Ibragimova told the Brooklyn Eagle.

Rasia Chernina, executive director and founder of Be Proud Inc., the not-for-profit organization that produced the event, pointed out that it was none other than her mother’s idea to create this contest.

“My mom would watch a lot of American TV talent show competitions, like ‘America’s Got Talent,’ and said one day, ‘What can we do for grandmothers?’” Chernina explained.

An inspiring message from a contestant supporter. Eagle Urban Media/Photo by Wayne Daren Schneiderman

Alexander Lachman, the event’s master of ceremonies, said the goal of the pageant is for grandchildren and other family members to see their grandmothers in a different light — “positive and healthy,” he noted.

In attendance at the event were several elected officials including Councilmember Ari Kagan; Assemblymember William Colton; District Attorney Eric Gonzalez; and Councilmember Mercedes Narcisse — as well as Theresa Scavo, chairperson of Community Board 15; and Tania Kinsella, NYPD first deputy commissioner.

Alec Teytel, who served as the head judge for the pageant, has been participating in this contest for 17 years since first becoming a grandfather. (Incidentally, all of the participating judges must be grandfathers.)

“It’s extremely important for senior citizens — which comprise the majority of the participants,” Teytel said, adding that preparing for this contest helps them stay active — and it’s something where they can show off their talents.

“There isn’t a bathing suit competition,” Teytel quipped. “But it is truly about the overall beauty of the person – inside and out.”

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