Baby LeStrange stands before the Rose City School of Burlesque class in hamburger-print leggings and boots with gold, spiked toes. She’s teaching facial expression, a skill she’s exhibited onstage before while straddling a giant hot dog bun, but first, she wants to know our plans for our graduation solos.
This is the first time we've discussed these solos, but the class already has ideas. Mimi Onna Rockett will debut, appropriately, on a rocket. Maddie McFly, who has a flux capacitor tattooed behind her ear, will wake up to “The Power of Love.” But one of the more personal numbers belongs to a former opera singer who’s so far only come up with a first name: Moxie. She’s performing in her wedding dress.
“It’s not a traditional wedding dress,” she says. “It’s red, but it’s a dress that took a lot of planning, so I felt very invested in it. And then I wore it once for a marriage I wasn’t happy in.”Moxie, 32, left her yearlong marriage three years ago and is now finalizing the divorce. She also quit singing more than a year ago, due to a growth in her trachea that eventually restricted her airway to 5 millimeters. The first day of class, as we played sexy in front of the mirrors, her breathing sounded painful. About a week later she went into surgery, and now her trachea measures a centimeter and a half.
She could sing again, she says. Eight months of coughing has damaged her vocal chords. It's nothing some coaching won’t fix, but she doesn't want to.
“Opera was another thing I was very hemmed in by," she says. “It’s another place where I didn't feel I could express everything that I had. There’s a very strict system of what you’re allowed to sing and how you're supposed to do things and who you study with—there are a lot of rules.
“I was allowing myself to be hemmed in by singing opera and a job that I hated and a marriage that was not right for me. I think my body was just like, ‘Really though, do something about this.’”
Back in the studio, toward the end of Baby LeStrange’s class, the students cross the floor, one at a time, giving their best face. Some students attack with coquettish glances and sensual strides. Others shimmy nervously across the room. On Moxie's turn, she takes large, strutting steps—she says she's always wanted to express more sexiness than she was allowed to. Toward the end of her walk, she peels off her striped top, to cheers from the class, and returns to the ranks in her black bra.
“It felt wrong and inappropriate,” she says later. “So I did it.”