Burlesque performer and instructor Tifa Tittlywinks, 37, is a true force to be reckoned with. The Montrose resident is as talented and driven as they come, and she’s doing her part to make burlesque a household word in Texas.
Tittlywinks is a multiple-award-winning performer, producer, and artist, as well as the owner of Dem Damn Dames Burlesque, which is Houston’s longest-running and largest monthly burlesque show. She’s also the owner and lead instructor of Houston’s biggest burlesque studio, Madame Fantastick’s Burlesque School, and she recently became the executive producer of Texas Star Burlesque in Dallas.
She identifies as “100 percent queer and pansexual, if I have to define my outward preferences.”
A native of Indianapolis, Tittlywinks has been dancing since the age of three. She has performed with the Indianapolis Dance Company, the Greg Hancock Dance Theater, and has choreographed for the Carmel Community Players in Indianapolis, where she won two awards for outstanding choreography.
She performed at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas in 2016 and 2018. She headlined both the Edmonton Burlesque Festival in 2017 and the Southwest Burlesque Showcase in 2018. She has hosted and been a featured performer at the Asheville, North Carolina ABSFest, and her performances and full-length productions have been featured in a number of conventions. Her performance styles range from vaudevillian to erotic and comic. Her highly artistic work incorporates elements of tap, jazz, bump-and-grind, and a plethora of other dance styles.
Her list of awards also includes the 2015 Future Legend of Burlesque at the San Antonio Burlesque Festival, the 2017 Most Original at the San Antonio Burlesque Festival, and the 2018 Most Comedic at the Oklahoma City Burlesque Festival.
Tittlywinks says she got into burlesque because of her love for musical theater. “I stayed in burlesque because I was tired of hearing ‘No’ from theater producers [who would tell me] I’m too tall, my voice is too low, I’m this, I’m that. In burlesque, I realized that harnessing the element of ‘the tease’ was all I had to do to liberate my creativity.
“The first show [that I choreographed] was super-cute, but horribly tragic in terms of costumes. We had no idea what we were doing. I could still wear my junior prom dress, so I took it and made it into my costume and started learning.”
During the pandemic, Tittlywinks created “Cabin Fever,” an opportunity for performers to perform and earn money at a time when shows were being cancelled left and right. “I am super extra-proud of that. We easily taught over 200 people to livestream. There was no other way to make money, and we showed them how. That gave me a lot of perspective about what is next. After 11 years of being the worker and breaking down walls, it was time to build and make it bigger,” she explains.
Tittlywinks is now enjoying her status as the “granddaddy,” as her burlesque colleagues call her. In addition to that mentoring position, she still livestreams and also travels to perform in small towns outside of Houston. “Like a super-successful weekly show in Bryan. It’s one of the first times a burlesque show has really paid the bills.”
She has supported Houston’s LGBTQ community however she can, “in countless ways for over a decade—Montrose Center, Hatch Youth, The Gender Book. The Houston Gendermyn have influenced me greatly.”
Burlesque may seem like it’s all fun and games, but Tittlywinks believes it can actually play a vital role in the arts community. “Burlesque is the one place I know of where performance artists can express themselves unabashedly. It can be political, religious, expressive, or just plain sexy. It can be anything, [but it] must be entertaining.”
For more info, visit damndames.com.
This article appears in the September 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.