Thu, Jun 03, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Fake blondes with strings attached

Trixie is a a Las Vegas stripper who is prepared to reveal all about her life in the skin trade

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , Las Vegas, Nevada

Trixie, a dancer at the Palomino Club in Las Vegas for two years now, seen at the club in the dressing room-locker area.

PHOTO: NY TIMESN

Strippers work three shifts at the Palomino Club: the "five," the "eight" and the 10pm.

New girls tend to work the five, which means they sometimes sit around an empty club for hours, playing video games, buying themselves US$11 whiskeys or US$8 rum and cokes, clicking up to the stage in high heels for a two-song show and getting naked for nobody but the DJ, a few other lonely strippers and their own reflections on the mirrored walls.

The best shift is the eight. The club might be filling up by then, promising dancers the most cash for the least time spent crawling across the stage, grabbing bills slipped into cleavage and G-strings, swinging around a pole or writhing in someone's lap for US$40 a dance in a dark room behind the bar.

Trixie works the eight. It's a seniority thing, and Trixie, a dancer at the Palomino for two years now, is the queen of her house, as she likes to say. That means, for one thing, that she is in good standing with the club's owner, a former cop from California known to the dancers as Mr. H. That kind of protection is no small thing in the potentially treacherous Las Vegas stripping world. It also means that so far Trixie has figured out how to survive, even thrive, as a stripper here.

Trixie is her stage name. To customers who demand to know her real name before they lay down a tip, she's Jennifer. But her real name is Stephanie -- Stephanie Vowell, 32, a small-town Midwesterner, a self-described "big fake blonde" who stands 6-foot-3 in her 7-inch heels with a fake blond ponytail, fake eyelashes, fake green eyes, a fake tan and fake breasts.

Being big and fake and loud is Trixie's way of standing out in Las Vegas, where it seems a million other girls do what she does.

"If you're going to work in Vegas, you have to have something that will set you apart from everyone else," she said one night at the Palomino. She fidgeted with the strap on her white heels, describing a painful condition she calls "stripper foot." "These are not happy shoes at all," she said. "But they do wonders for you. I like to be able to stand up and look a man in the eye when I'm talking business. In these shoes, they see me above everybody else."

Dancers like Trixie, who grew up in a small cornfield of a town with no stoplights in Illinois and moved here from Naples, Florida, three years ago, are flocking to Las Vegas from all corners of the country. In the last 10 years, dozens of new clubs have opened here, and experienced or first-time strippers can usually get a job instantly at one of the 40 clubs in town, although many dancers say the competition is getting fiercer.

Trixie had been dancing for a year in Tampa, Florida, when Tampa cracked down on its clubs, introducing a "six foot rule," which basically meant no touching the customers and consequently a lot less money for the strippers. She decided, she said, "If you're going to be a stripper, you might as well pack up and go to Vegas."

She says stripping can be a springboard to something better or an abyss of drugs, alcohol, abuse and prostitution. Sometimes stripping is just a living, the rent. And plenty of dancers say they love what they do, if not for the money then the attention, or the power they wield over men "stupid enough to pay to see you naked," as one Palomino dancer put it.

But most dancers at the Palomino, Trixie included, say they aspire to be something else -- an actress, a model, a good mother, a child psychologist, an author, a veterinarian, a teacher, a rap artist, a lawyer. They may not have real plans yet, but they all have hopes.

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