In November 2010, my colleague Pete Vonder Haar asked the question "Why Doesn't Houston Have a Burlesque Troupe?"
Three-plus years later, the burlesque scene in Houston is booming, and boasts at least five unique troupes plus a handful of solo artists, according to Tifa Tittlywinks, member of one of Houston's oldest troupes, Dem Damn Dames.
At the time of Vonder Haar's story, the Dames were actually in the process of forming. Tittlywinks, who grew up in Indiana and moved to Houston for work in 2008, had been a student of dance her whole life. It was here that she met Tricia Licious, who asked her if she wanted to help start a burlesque troupe in Houston.
"We didn't audition girls or anything. We just asked people, 'Hey, do you want to dance?'"
The Dames performed their first show in fall 2010.
Since then, the Dames' line-up has changed. Licious and another founding member, Kiki Maroon, now mainly perform solo, and Tittlywinks is the Mistress of the fairly small troupe. Tiddlywinks said that organic growth is part of what makes Houston's scene special.
"We were a bit rocky and rough around the edges," she said. "But I didn't have to be cast, I didn't have to rub shoulders. I got to be me. The beauty of that is it's pretty much how any solid scene starts."
That's not to say the current Houston burlesque scene isn't without its divisions.
Take, for example, last weekend's H-town Burlesque Fest at the House of Blues. Despite the name -- and there are some Houston dancers involved, including the Houston Burlesque Revue -- the festival is actually organized by a Dallas troupe, The Ruby Revue, who have a regular monthly gig at HOB. In fact, up one day last week, the url HoustonBurlesqueFestival.com rerouted to a page for a Dallas festival that took place in 2012. (The site now directs to a Facebook page for the H-town Burlesque Fest.)
Tittlywinks said that despite the involvement of some Houston dancers, many women in the scene don't like the idea of an outside troupe putting on a Houston-branded festival.
"It's unfortunate, because it's splitting the scene," she said. "A lot of Houston people have gone to great lengths to offset that, but I will not condone a festival called the H-town Burlesque Fest that's not."
"Other cities have to trust us to do this ourselves," she said. "In fact, I heard Coco Lectric (of the Austin troupe The Jigglewatts) say that -- as soon as she saw Houston had a scene, she stopped playing here."
Tittlywinks says a true Houston-based festival, with classes, tryouts and more, is the next step for the city's scene.
"I think this festival is a giant wake-up call. The city is ready for a festival and we have people who can do it. If we can pull together a festival that's Houston-made, the national spotlight will be on us."
To that end, Tittlywinks said she'd like to see Houston form a burlesque alliance, where troupes work together to set minimum pay rates and trade skills such as stage managing and hula-hooping lessons, for example.
"I am so energized by the community right now because it's growing faster than anyone expected," she said. "Our scene is so amazing because we know we can make it from nothing. We are still new, we're all good, raw talent, and getting the right things to make it happen in Houston are cheaper than other cities. We can make it happen the way we want, because we are not made from the molds of any other troupe. We need to pull together to make it happen."
UPDATE: Shana Nicole of the Houston Burlesque Revue and a co-produer of this past weekend's festival talks about the involvement of Houston troupes in the H-town Burlesque Fest.
"We had been talking about doing this for a while," she said. "Even in burlesque, it's hard to find original ideas. Many people can have the same idea at the same time. It's constantly an homage to itself."
She said The Ruby Revue and other troupes outside of Houston paved the way for a burlesque-loving audience in Houston.
"They were actually here before we had a burlesque scene," she said. "They were one of the first commonly-known burlesque troupes in Texas. They are great dancers, they are smart business women and they are award-winning performers. We've always embraced them here. By bringing shows to the House of Blues it took burlesque from a small niche market to a more diverse audience. They planted the seed. Not that they did it alone, but they did it."
She said that in planning the H-town Burlesque Fest, organizers tried their best to include as many Houston troupes and performers as possible. Houston's Miss V Haven, for example, is usually the MC for Ruby Revue's performances in Houston. Tittlywinks said she was offered a role but turned it down because she disliked the fact that the festival was run, in part, by a Dallas troupe.
"We tried to keep any kind of division from happening. The goal was not to split the community or split the fanbase. We really tried to include the entire community."
Nicole also said The Ruby Revue provided lots of experience and expertise to a younger troupe who had never planned a festival before.
"A lot of the footwork was done by Houston (dancers), from a production standpoint," she said. "But a lot of the connections we couldn't have gotten alone, as a first-year festival. Ruby Revue helped us out a lot. Festivals like this are a huge undertaking -- that's why there were so many producers. We had friends who were willing to help us out, and we were super excited to have the help. It's sad that the perception of that is that it was an outside festival. They (Ruby Revue) love Houston. We're all professionals and we have all made a great collaboration."
Nicole said that part of the confusion and hurt feelings stems from the normal growing pains of a young but thriving scene.
"Houston is a very young burlesque community," she said. "Growing pains are expected. It's very funny to watch your own growing pains as you mature. But with burlesque, the audience doesn't have to choose. You can go to every show. You can enjoy every variety, because we're all doing it for the right reasons.
"If Houston burlesque has grown this much since 2010, in two years it's going to be like a tree. Think of what it's going to be like in in 2018."
More of Houston's Burlesque Troupes
The Moonlight Dolls -- Think cabaret performances or professional showgirls along the lines of the Pussycat Dolls.
Feline Noir -- A fairly new, primarily African-American troupe that performs modern burlesque with a taste of urban dance, jazz and even spoken word.
Rocket Girl Burlesque -- Also a new troupe, Rocket Girl aims to "bring vaudeville back to modern burlesque." Dancers perform belly dance and hula hoop dancing.
Houston Burlesque Soloists
Kiki Maroon -- Hostess of Kiki's Sordid Sideshow, every Saturday night at Outlaw Dave's Worldwide Headquarters.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Miss V Haven -- Pin-up model, hostess, occasional burlesque performer and frequent Mistress of Ceremonies at everything from burlesque shows to hot rod festivals.
Midnight Joy -- "She is the most DIY burlesque performer in Houston," Tittlywinks said. "She makes her own costumes, her own choreography. She's just great."