Baring it all, Burlesque Style

By Gregory Miller

A Night with Trixie and her Dolls

Madame Trixie preparing for the show

“I got to pee. This is so inconvenient it’s not even funny,” the seductress said to me backstage, moments before she steps out onto a makeshift stage in the lobby of the Hotel Utica.

Flaunting eight-inch heels and an off-white bustled Victorian gown with a sleek, crimson corset, Madame Trixie slinks her way through the crowd and into the dim-lit space reserved for her performance. At almost 1 a.m., most of the night’s guests stumble in unbelievable intoxication. All glassy eyes focus on the busty, 5-foot tall femme fatale, whose own eyes hold some sort of forbidden passion.

“Trixie,” the alias of a working mother of four, began the day with her children, only to end it with fans of her increasingly popular Central New York-based troupe, Madame Trixie and Her Dolls Burlesque.

I first met Trixie in the hotel lobby hours before her performance at a Halloween costume party. It was easy to see why the business works for her — what she lacks in her tiny frame she more than makes up for in beauty. Trixie’s lines are mature, but in a hypersexual way that says, “I know what I’m doing, bitch.”

The Camillus-based Syracuse native originally planned to start taking off her clothes with a Rochester burlesque group in late 2007.

“I was actually willing to drive there once a month because I really wanted to do this,” the vamp told me in a harsh Upstate New York accent. “But they broke up, and the woman in charge said, ‘Why don’t you just start your own?’ And I said, ‘Well that’s a great idea!’ So I did.”

Trixie started by recruiting her teammates from the Assault City Roller Derby who wanted to bare it all. She booked her first gig at the Half Penny Pub on West Fayette, and the legend began. Now the troupe performs a major show at least once a month.

Madame Trixie with fire“People have been really drawn to this because it’s so unique,” said Rick Myers*, a friend of Trixie’s who helped stage the night’s props and occasionally protected against belligerent drunks throughout the evening. “It comes down to her talent. A lot of people could try to do it, but she does it really well.”

Describing just exactly what Trixie does is difficult. It’s a sort of vaudeville throwback mashed together with a circus, though in this circus, the clowns are hot, and the acrobats take their bras off.

“You’ve got to be passionate about the music and the clothes,” Trixie said. “But it’s a striptease. Essentially, that’s what it all boils down to regardless of whether someone’s doing a magic act, or using fire, or sword spinning, or belly dancing, or ballet.”

Trixie’s performances are not lap dances and she never removes her panties. The costume party was a PG-13 show, meaning she and the dolls wouldn’t go topless, but they usually wear pasties with tassles on them.

But that’s not to say she wouldn’t take it all off.

“I would because I like to do things that are somewhat shocking and that people wouldn’t expect or whatever, but you have to be in a certain type of venue for that to happen,” she explained.

When Myers brings her a glass of water, I asked if he’s her husband.

“No,” Trixie bit back. “Here’s the thing,” she began, in a manner that suggested she’d given this spiel before. “We like to keep that whole thing private. I can say I do have a family. I have a studio in my home.”

“It is unique,” she went on, “Because people are like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re a mom.’ We keep it separate from the children, although every now and then, when we’re not taking clothes off, and we’re just dancing, the kids will come watch. I like for the kids to understand that this is an art form. They don’t have a complete understanding of what I do. They’ve never seen a show. They’re just not old enough.” I leave it at that.

A few hours later, Trixie and the dolls performing that night — Cherry Poppins, Katrina Van Tassle, Pammy Sue, Gigi, and Ruby Roulette — huddle frantically in a room set apart as the backstage area. There are plenty of hold-ups — not enough water in the giant-sized martini glass, missing prop here, smashed guy in Humpty Dumpty outfit there.

“It’s always like this,” Trixie sighed. “It never goes right. It’s okay though. Hopefully they like it, and forget all about the fact that they had to wait for a minute.”

When Trixie stripped down to the minimums in the opening number, two men near me weighed in. “She’s dirty, man. I wouldn’t touch her,” the first said.

“Dude, she’s dirty, and that’s why I’d touch her,” the second argued.

As the troupe came together for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” the closing number, a drunken man in a whoopee cushion costume attempted to ambush the floor. I held him back by the shoulders.

Trixie danced a mere three feet in front of us, and in a rare moment, she seemed to let her guard down, not knowing how to respond to the crass act. Had I blinked, I would have missed that second of innocence in her eyes — that natural human desire to be liked.

“What, you don’t like the show?” she snapped, tossing up her beaded skirt inches from the drunkard’s face.

That’s the Trixie I met — an illustrious dame who will slip you some nip, but isn’t about to take any shit.

*name has been changed

Photographs by Ellie Sunakawa