New Orleanians: How ditching booze for burlesque awakened dancer Harper Hexx

Harper Hexx began as an exotic dancer on Bourbon Street at 19-years-old, but after ditching booze and getting sober, she says she's been awakened.

by Matthew Hinton
September 18, 2019

Glitter, heels, and an occasional snake or sword — these are the tools of the trade for burlesque dancer Harper Hexx.

“I just like playing with swords,” she said. “[I think of burlesque] as an expression of who I am and what I’m feeling.”

The New Orleans resident and dancer performed in the 2019 Queen of Burlesque competition during the 11th annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival at the House of Blues Saturday, Sept. 14.

The three-day festival features burlesque and other performers including escape artists, tap dancers, comedians and magicians. The main event invites burlesque dancers from around the globe to perform to music of a live jazz band and the chance to be crowned 2019 Queen at the end of the night. Hexx finished as the second runner-up to Albadoro Gala, a burlesque dancer from Italy. Other performers in the Queen of Burlesque competition included dancers Queen Etouffante, Petit Cheire, Demi Dior, Lil Steph and Sheila Shortcake.

Hexx began as an exotic dancer on Bourbon Street when she was 19 years old, and said the first time she took her top off on stage she got a feeling of pure adrenaline. While working at Bourbon Street gentleman’s club she was spotted by burlesque performer and producer Trixie Minx and asked to perform in the Voodoo Burlesque show held at the club. But burlesque was not something Hexx initially did full-time, and she was also a bartender in the French Quarter in addition to striptease.

“I kind of fell into [burlesque], honestly,” she said.

In an all too common tale, she fell into the temptations one can easily find on Bourbon Street.

“I used to be a heavy alcoholic,” she said. “I just celebrated a year and a half sober. Getting sober has been an awakening for me and given me a new fire for burlesque and performing. Performing is more rewarding because I’m not falling down drunk all the time. I feel more adrenaline on stage now that I don’t drink.”

New Orleans burlesque dancer Harper Hexx prepares herself for the stage at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. Photo by Matthew Hinton

Now, Hexx says sobriety is a key ingredient in her recipe for success.

She also uses meditation and yoga to help with her sobriety. Hexx said meditation is about “relaxed breathing, clearing your mind, visualizing your goals and figuring ways to achieve your goals. I thank the universe for letting me survive a day without a drink or drugs and ask that I make it through another day without a drink or a drug.”

Harper Hexx says she uses mediation and yoga to help keep her mind clear as a recovering alcoholic. Hexx performs as least once a week and feels that dancing, like her mediations, keeps her centered. Photo by Matthew Hinton

She recently joined Bustout Burlesque, created by Rick Delaup, who also runs the New Orleans Burlesque Festival, and has rededicated herself to learn more about the art and history of burlesque dancing including meeting Kitty West — also known as the legendary Evangeline the Oyster Girl — before she passed this year.

“Burlesque is a more artistic and seductive form of striptease, it’s the oldest form of striptease,” Hexx said.

In addition to her art, Hexx is a part-time business student and recently co-founded and produced Green Fairy Burlesque at Mahogany Jazz Hall.

“It’s a very interactive burlesque show with a speakeasy-style with small crowds of people,” she said. “There is improvised burlesque and we tell the history of absinthe.”

Hexx herself plays an absinthe fairy.

“It’s sometimes a personal struggle because everyone goes out for a drink and I can’t do that,” she said. “I can smell the absinthe now and that’s satisfying enough [without needing to drink it.]”

Hexx is also part of The Chateau.

“The Chateau is a society for safe pet play, kitten play, it’s not like furries. It’s for ladies who are into that old [way of having gents treat them with class.] There is a lot of sitting around in lingerie and wearing a $60 collar, because why not?”

She wears cat ears and a tail, while photoshoots and modeling, and kitten-themed burlesque called “purrlesque” takes place.

“It’s like Playboy bunnies but with kittens,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun and there is a supportive group of women.”

Hexx has sharp kitten-like nails, but she has had to shorten them because it’s difficult to take notes in class with longer nails.

New Orleans resident and burlesque dancer Harper Hexx. Photo by Matthew Hinton

Between the Bustout Burlesque and Green Fairy Burlesque, Hexx now performs at least once a week and feels dancing, like her mediation sessions, keeps her centered.

“I couldn’t imagine not being able to perform,” she said. “To not perform for me would just be to roll over and die. There are very few things in life that give me this amount of true happiness.”

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Matthew Hinton is a New Orleans area freelance photographer whose work has been recognized by the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Best of Photojournalism Awards in 2014 and 2016, and by numerous awards from the Press Club of New Orleans, including the Hal Ledet President's Print Photography Award, the highest honor the Press Club can bestow upon a photographer. Matthew Hinton has previously been a staff photographer at both of the daily newspapers in New Orleans. His work has appeared nationally and internationally through freelance work with the Associated Press and AFP, Agence France-Presse.

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