New Orleanians

How Trixie Minx went from broken ballerina to NOLA’s burlesque ambassador

When Trixie Minx first arrived in the Crescent City in 2001, both her dreams of being a professional ballerina and her ankle had been broken. But in New Orleans things fell into place.

Ballet dancing from when she was “itsy-bitsy” to her early twenties, Trixie previously worked in ballet companies in Nashville, Tenn. and Austin, Texas.

“I was working with Ballet Austin for a little bit and that’s when it just got really bad,” she said. “I wasn’t very healthy. I had multiple eating disorders. I was anorexic, bulimic, and then I injured my ankle.”

The injury meant Trixie couldn’t actually walk. Trixie said she took time off to heal her foot and refocus her priorities. A friend in New Orleans suggested Trixie come stay with her for a spell and figure things out. She ended up staying longer than expected.

“I don’t get naked. That’s not what I do.”

“It went from like a week to two weeks, to a month, to a year, to eventually this is where I’m here to stay,” she said.

Trixie befriended some local women entertainers, who did burlesque part-time, including an opera singer and a professional ballroom dancer and they invited Trixie to see their solo shows in bars in New Orleans. Trixie enjoyed the shows, but when they suggested she try burlesque herself, she climbed on her high horse.

“I said, ‘No, no, no, not me. I don’t get naked. That’s not, that’s not what I do,’” she said.

However, a visit abroad to a burlesque show at the Moulin Rouge Cabaret in Paris followed by a trip to the Crazy Horse Paris Saloon in Las Vegas helped Trixie make the jump from her high horse onto the burlesque bandwagon. In Paris, she saw multiple dancers on a properly lit stage working as part of a choreographed production, similar to her previous experiences during ballet performances with a live orchestra. When she returned to New Orleans, Trixie had a change of heart. “

“Lo and behold, one day I finally was like, ‘I’ll try it.’ And sort of like a fish to water, I haven’t stopped since,” she said.

Trixie Minx said her first time on stage was scary because she had a strong sense of anticipation.

“You’re really excited about something but you don’t know what’s going to happen. Almost like going on a roller coaster,” she said.

The moment her foot hit the stage though, she felt pumped and happy.

“It was pure joy,” Trixie recalled.

Another thing that blew her mind when she first started is that burlesque is interactive.

Burgundy Burlesque performer and producer Trixie Minx toys with a patron at the Burgundy Bar inside The Saint Hotel on Canal Street in the French Quarter in New Orleans, La. Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. Trixie Minx Productions hosts a weekly show on Fridays at the venue with Gerald French and French Follies Jazz Band. Photo by Matthew Hinton

“When you literally take off your clothes, the audience claps for you and appreciates you,” she said.

Having overcome serious eating disorders through therapy, the feeling of affirmation that Trixie received from the audience gave her a profound feeling of self-confidence in her own body and as an artist.

“If I’m staying after Katrina, I’m here.”

Trixie began auditioning for burlesque shows shortly before the federal levees fell following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, but hadn’t decided yet decided to commit to burlesque full-time.

“Katrina, for me, was that major turning point where it was like, you might as well try everything once because nothing is guaranteed,” she said.

Trixie also decided to make her move to New Orleans more permanent and bought a home with her husband in the St. Roch / Marigny area after the storm.

“Oh! I know I’m staying here. If I’m staying after Katrina, I’m here,’” she said.

Hoping the house would be a simple fixer-upper, her simple plan literally fell apart.

Burlesque performer and producer Trixie Minx relaxes at home with her merman, left, and her dog Zeus with a matching tiara in New Orleans, La. Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. Photo by Matthew Hinton

“[Owning the home] turned into an odd nightmare,” she said. “There was actually a neighbor’s house that fell on us.”

Like many New Orleanians, Trixie and her husband had to deal with neighboring blight. New Orleans was the number one blighted city in the United States after Katrina and remained that way until 2011, when it was overtaken by Detroit and Flint, Michigan.

“Long story short, if you want to be a New Orleanian, be a New Orleanian, but investing in the land here is very stressful,” she said.

Despite the stress, Trixie and husband are still maintaining the house with their adorable dog Zeus.

Katrina also lead to the unlikely opportunity to go on tour as a burlesque dancer through Comic Relief. Comic Relief USA founder and comedian Bob Zmuda revived Comic Relief on HBO in 2006 to benefit Katrina victims and a couple of years later revived his role as Tony Clifton, Andy Kaufman’s and Bob Zmuda’s shared alter ego of an absurd, audience-abusing lounge singer. The Tony Clifton and the Katrina-Kiss-My-Ass Orchestra tour kicked off in 2008 with Trixie Minx as one of the Cliftonettes, a group of burlesque dancers, with proceeds from the concerts benefiting Gulf Coast musicians, dancers, and singers. (Though have been various claims and hoaxes throughout the years, Andy Kaufman has not been revived.)

Burl-etiquette

Trixie loves burlesque because it often allows more creative control and can work on a smaller scale. “As a ballet dancer you’re an instrument for somebody else’s vision,” Trixie explained.

In ballet productions, individual crew members act as director, choreographer, or costume designer. In burlesque, Trixie takes on a majority of the roles in production including costuming. The costumes can get costly and represent many hours of sewing and tailoring time to produce. When Trixie disrobes and hands a piece of clothing to a member of the crowd, she kindly asks for the clothes back at the end of the performance.

A patron of a ballet show is only expected to applaud at the finale and unlikely to hold onto a corset or pair of stockings.

Burgundy Burlesque performer and producer Trixie Minx toys with patrons at the Burgundy Bar inside The Saint Hotel on Canal Street in the French Quarter in New Orleans, La. Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. Trixie Minx Productions hosts a weekly show on Fridays at the venue with Gerald French and French Follies Jazz Band. Photo by Matthew Hinton

“We literally request at the very start of the show that people hoot and holler to encourage their performers to disrobe and be a part of the performance. It’s really fun to play with the audience,” she explained.

Burlesque shows often have a host that gives a primer on the do’s and don’ts of a performance or burl-etiquette. Tipping is encouraged, but Trixie says that burlesque patrons should experience the show with their eyes and ears, not with their hands. Instead, place tips on the stage or in a giant wine glass designed to hold tips. Trixie encourages guests to dress up for a show.

Burgundy Burlesque performer and producer Trixie Minx dances with a birthday girl at the Burgundy Bar inside The Saint Hotel on Canal Street in the French Quarter in New Orleans, La. Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. Trixie Minx Productions hosts a weekly show on Fridays at the venue with Gerald French and French Follies Jazz Band. Photo by Matthew Hinton

“We’re sparkly enough for ya, but if you want to join in the sparkle, please do,” she said.

Starting out, Trixie gained experience working with Bustout Burlesque, a classic burlesque show, but left after a few months as she wanted the challenge of trying new things on her own.

“I really like incorporating silly stuff into my acts,” she said. “I have one act where I’m a turtle. There’s no reason for me to be a turtle. But it is a really funny idea.”

“The Giving Tree”

Burlesque’s original definition is “an absurd or comically exaggerated imitation of something, especially in a literary or dramatic work; a parody.” The term burlesque was later applied to variety shows that included striptease. In another act she created, Trixie parodies the Shel Silverstein children’s book, “The Giving Tree.” Trixie performs with long, long arms and an apple stuck in her mouth while another performer chops her down mirroring how the tree gave apples and wood to the boy in the story.

When she is finally chopped down to a stump, she actually grows a little taller and tells the boy of story how he should behave with a lady, followed by a striptease burlesque number.

Branching out on her own, Trixie eventually produced her own show called Fleur de Tease and formed Trixie Minx Productions as a way to pay performers.

Burgundy Burlesque performer Piper Marie disrobes in Burgundy Bar inside The Saint Hotel as people watch through the window on Canal Street in the French Quarter in New Orleans, La. Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. Trixie Minx Productions hosts a weekly show on Fridays at the venue with Gerald French and French Follies Jazz Band. Photo by Matthew Hinton

Trixie Minx Productions, which she now runs with with business partner Emily Conelly, presents three weekly shows including Burgundy Burlesque every Friday at The Saint Hotel with drummer Gerald French and the French Follies Jazz Band. In the French Quarter, The Saint Hotel features a large window allowing passers-by on Canal Street to catch a peek at the dancers on stage. Burlesque doesn’t technically have nudity, but barely-there pasties and g-strings cover up anything objectionable. Burlesque Ballroom, another all-female burlesque show, is also held on Friday nights at the Royal Sonesta featuring the vocals of Romy Kaye & the Mercy Buckets. On Tuesdays, Trixie hosts Bourbon Boylesque, featuring male burlesque performers at Oz New Orleans, a gay dance club. The aforementioned Fleur de Tease is a large-scale review similar to the Crazy Horse Saloon in Paris with aerialists, magicians, group choreography and special-themed shows like the upcoming Burlesque Holiday Spectacular, Dec. 14th and 15th at One Eyed Jack’s on Toulouse Street. For a full list of events www.FleurDeTease.com to learn more.

Traveling around the world, Trixie has learned that not many burlesque shows work with live musicians, however in New Orleans, she works with two bands every Friday.

“What is very true of the New Orleans culture is that the artists come together, the musicians and the dancers are coming together to create something super cool,” she said. “They already have their own gigs, but why not build something bigger?”

Gerald French, who plays drums for Burgundy Burlesque, is also a drummer for Charmaine Neville, having previously worked and traveled with Dr. John and Harry Connick, Jr. French is also the leader of the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, a band started in 1910, which is the oldest continuous jazz band in New Orleans and was once led by French’s father and before him his grandfather.

Like French, Trixie has also traveled the world as an ambassador of New Orleans culture performing most recently at the Ascona Jazz Festival in Switzerland. There she danced with feathered fans as the grand marshal for different jazz band second lines at the annual festival. Back at home, she promotes burlesque culture that encompasses a wide variety of tastes and Trixie urges people to sample different acts.

“I’d like for the community to embrace burlesque performers the same way they do with other art forms like music,” she said. “You can like more than one dancer. When one person succeeds, we as a group all reap the benefits.”

At a recent Burgundy Burlesque performance, Trixie Minx worked with a cross-section of performers including MisSa Blue, a German burlesque dancer, sword-swallower, and fire eater; Roxie Le Rouge, who produces the traveling Big Deal Burlesque and is known as having “The Best Booty in the Big Easy,” Piper Marie, from the Northshore, who has traveled with Trixie to perform in Atlantic City, New Jersey in The Burlesque Show; and Lola van Ella, a chanteuse and dancer who calls herself “a singing stripteuse” now based in New Orleans by way of St. Louis.

Becoming a Burlesque Ambassador

Trixie has also been recruited to promote food to visitors including the annual New Orleans Wine and Food Experience and most recently as the official Queen of Cheese at the Fête des Fromages aka the NOLA Cheese Fest at the US Mint in the French Quarter. Trixie Minx loves cheese, though asking her to narrow it down to a favorite kind of cheese is difficult.

“Oh, that’s like trying to pick a favorite child. I can’t do that,” she said.

In a moment of reflection, Trixie said, “I think cheese actually goes back to my eating disorders. When I was working with the nutritionist and through therapy to learn how to eat again. Cheese was one of those wonderful food groups that in addition to being freaking delicious, it requires no cooking. I can’t stress enough how I have no culinary skills, and based off of pure survival tactics, cheese has been half the food pyramid [for me]. It’s a dairy, a protein, a fat, put it on a cracker and you have a carb.”

She became the festival queen by sending messages to the organizers and gushing over her love of cheese. After leading a second line around the Mint with the Merry Antoinettes this past month, she was carried up on stage with a giant 80-pound cheese wheel on a platform held by four men. She called it a career highlight.

An unexpected highlight occurred when Trixie was asked to ride a camel at the Fair Grounds on August 18, 2012, during the exotic animal races, as a member of the Carnival dance group the Camel Toe Lady Steppers. WGNO meteorologist Hank Allen, WGNO TV host Chriss Knight, and radio DJ Nikki Landry were enlisted to race with Trixie, who was dressed as Barbara Eden’s character from “I Dream of Jeannie.” Trained horse jockeys raced ostriches, and Trixie expected to get some pointers from the jockeys on riding the camels before the race. Instead, the group of local celebrities were asked to sign lengthy liability waivers. Not wanting to disappoint the crowd of thousands that had shown up for the rainy event, the group signed the wavers. Next, they were quickly mounted atop the 7-foot tall, 1,000-pound camels and pushed into the starting gate. Trixie didn’t know she was supposed to ride the hump of the camel, and instead mounted the camel’s butt. Larger than horses, the camels were a tight fit in the starting gate and Knight’s camel began making a noise that sounded like a dinosaur. The noise distressed Knight and she changed her mind and wanted to get off the camel named Spit-Or-Get-Off-The-Pot. One of the race officials informed her “these gates don’t open backward, they only open in the front.”

The bell rang as the gates opened and the camels burst forth onto the muddy track. Trixie said her camel, Hump-hrey Bogart, looked like a dolphin as it galloped in the mud.

“I’ve only experienced this at one other point in my life that was super traumatic-but I felt like I wasn’t riding a camel,” she said. “I wasn’t in New Orleans. I was on a wave and there was no sound. It was like ocean water and everything was in slow motion.”

She kept repeating to herself, “I’m on a wave, I’m on a wave.” Out of the corner of her right eye, Trixie witnessed Knight uttering a silent scream as she barely held on sideways as her camel headed straight for the guardrail.

“I’m on a wave, I’m on wave.”

On her left, Trixie literally saw a man fly through the air. It was Hank Allen, who was thrown off his bucking camel Desert Brees.

WGNO meteorologist Hank Allen falls off his camel Desert Brees during a camel race at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012. Trixie Minx of Fleur de Tease rides Humphrey Bogart, left, and Nikki Landry of Voodoo 104 rides Hump De Hump. Allen though sore was not seriously injured. Photo by Matthew Hinton

“I’m on a wave, I’m on wave,” Trixie repeated.

“It really could not have been more than a minute, but it felt like an hour. I came to, and the race was over and I was literally hugging the camel,” she said.

Chriss Knight ended up hurting her shoulder, while Hank Allen luckily escaped a serious injury by landing on his butt and tumbling with legs akimbo. WGNO urged him to fill out a workman’s comp claim and he got a few visits to a chiropractor but was fine after the soreness wore off. Trixie came in second, while Nikki Landry, who had previously ridden a camel, came in first. Since then only professional jockeys have ridden the exotic animals at the Fair Grounds.

Chriss Knight tries to stay on her camel before a trainer helps her down during the camel, ostrich, and mascots race at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012. Photo by Matthew Hinton

“It was like something from a John Waters film, nothing made sense, everything was backwards,” said Trixie.

An unforeseen highlight came about while training for Fleur de Tease. Trixie learned an aerial silk and trapeze routine that she was able to perform one time, but injured her back on the next attempt.

“I was completely incapacitated. I couldn’t bend,” she said.

A doctor prescribed pain meds and strengthening exercises until she improved. As a producer, Trixie was determined not to miss a show and sat in the audience. She realized she had never actually had a chance to see the routines from that perspective.

“When you look at social media and pictures [from a performance], there’s a lot of glitz and glamour and sparkle and whimsy,” she said. “But the people that are actually putting the shows together on the back end, do a lot of groundwork including rehearsals, coordinating schedules, answering emails and texts.”

Trixie described how the cast and crew run throughout the French Quarter passing out handbills, barking, and inviting people to attend a show.

“They are trying to do everything to not only get on stage, but to actually make sure that people come to the show and have a wonderful experience,” she said,

As Trixie watched that performance in the crowd she thought, “We have a really beautiful family. That’s my baby.”

Dancing is Trixie Minx’s happy place.

“When I’m dancing, no matter what’s happening in my life, whether it’s personal or financial or any of that other stuff, it all goes away when I’m on stage,” she said.