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Take it Off

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I’m sorry – I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on,” I apologized as the Brew City Burlesque girls waved me down at Anodyne Coffee Roasters . . . actually, that wasn’t the case at all. I instantly spotted Miss Chassy Dee Luxe and Ophelia Knightly sitting in the middle of the room as afternoon coffee-quaffers milled about. Maybe it was Chassy’s neon green jumpsuit, or perhaps Ophelia’s Veronica Lake hairstyle. Either way, Miss Trixie Van Tassel and their manager, Cookie, joined us shortly afterward and we began to delve into what drew them into the world of burlesque. In typical Milwaukee “zero degrees of separation” fashion, Chassy’s friend, Billy Boy Brad, a local rockabilly DJ at the now defunct Reed St. Station, wanted to start something, so she contacted her friend Ophelia. Trixie saw their flyer and was the only one who showed up for the auditions. Miss Cookie started hanging with Miss Trixie around Christmas and, because she is more confident offstage and not quite comfortable in pasties yet, became their manager. Another member, Sophia Vegas, is on hiatus at the moment, but they have an official doorman called “Dick”, whose last name is unprintable. The group definitely has a feminist edge to it — showing that women can be strong, sexy and funny at the same time. “I’m not Avril Lavigne, but I don’t care because I’m having fun,” said Miss Trixie. Brew City Burlesque has gotten a great response, especially from full-figured women who come to their shows and enjoy being photographed with the BCB-ers. On the other hand, there have been some “nasty and seriously uncalled-for comments,” described Trixie, from people who ogled a particular picture included with a recent OnMilwaukee.com BCB feature. “People think we are strippers,” she continued, and the group explained how they have lost venues because of this misconception. The bottom line, according to BCB, is strippers do it for the money, but burlesque performers put what they earn into their costumes. “Stripping is strictly no frills, whereas we’re all about the frills,” Ophelia stated. What the two genres share is a “no touching” rule. “First and foremost,” Trixie said, “we are performers and we are ladies — don’t stuff dollar bills into our panties.” When the going gets tough, the tough get going. As Chassy explained, any negative criticism simply “drives us to work harder to challenge beliefs.” Although the group is in desperate need of “more theater-based people who are open to new ideas,” Chassy cautions potential BCB hopefuls, “It takes a certain mentality to hold your own in a performance. You have to be strong, self-confident, and not afraid to take a chance and show the world what you’re made of.” Moreover, Trixie feels the main idea to keep in mind about Brew City Burlesque is that “it doesn’t matter what kind of body type you have; it’s all about your own idea of beauty.” 36-24-36? Not everyone is going to measure-up. Attitude, charisma, and how you present yourself also figure in, with each lady putting forth equal amounts of effort. The group feels that burlesque somewhat resembles performance art, so they try to come up with stuff that is both sexy and funny–whatever tickles their fancy (no pun intended). In addition to more traditional holiday-themed pieces, they perform mock stripteases and bawdy comedy in the tradition of Benny Hill. Gender bending? Well, why not? Even Shakespeare did that. In their “Fever” number for the UWM Drag Ball, a Project Q benefit, the girls wore whiplash mustaches and goatees, revealing red ruffled bras & bottoms underneath their tuxedoes. Even though these boundary-pushers are taking a break after doing three gigs in one month, they are busy fixing costumes and rehearsing twice weekly. Look for them in the near future on the Fox 6 Wake Up Show. The girls are also hoping to schedule performances with The Jezebels (Chicago-based), and local groups such as the Uptown Savages. For more (or less), call Trixie at 899-6985 or visit www.brewcityburlesque.iwarp.com. Editor’s Note: (Tickle your own fancy by picking up a copy of Rachel Shteir’s “Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show” (Oxford, $30). It will put you in touch with burlesque of the American persuasion)
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