REAL VEGAS PEOPLE – Entertainer Tonya Tovias

Here we are with the final chapter of our “Showgirls of BurlesQ” series (Part One here and Part Two here), and this one is especially exciting. Why? Because we’ll introduce you to a dancer who actually became a part of Vegas cinematic history. More on that later, so let’s get straight to the fun with one of the most effusive, compassionate, and dedicated entertainers you’re ever likely to meet. Her name is Tonya Tovias, and you’re about to fall in love with this real-life doll.

The classic Vegas Showgirl is a delightful cocktail. Her ingredients include class, sass, sophistication, and girl-next-door qualities with a Sin City twist. She can dazzle, charm, wow, and win your heart. One look at the above photo will show you that Tonya Tovias exemplifies those qualities while bringing intelligence, talent, and much more to the recipe.

Tonya was born and raised in Lompoc, California, a small town in the central coast area. She considers herself fortunate that the Santa Barbara County area offered a high-quality dance studio. It was there that she learned tap, ballet, and jazz. That segued into the pointe technique and hip-hop (quite a range), then a scholarship at Edge Performing Arts Center in Hollywood exposed her to the big Los Angeles audition scene.

Although her family still resides in the Lompoc area, Tonya moved to Las Vegas twenty-two years ago. She’d been here a few times previously to rehearse for shows that would be touring internationally…and liked what she saw.

So after traveling with productions and cruise ships, it was time to settle in with a new home and job. The dancer jokes that it took her only three months to secure a spot in a Vegas production, but three long years to purchase a house in the area.

Two-plus decades of performing accrued an impressive list of shows, in such historic places as the Stardust (Headlights and Tailpipes), Flamingo (Bill Acosta’s LASTING IMPRESSIONS, Breck Wall’s BOTTOMS UP, X Burlesque), and Venetian (BRAVO featuring Charo). Titles like SKINTIGHT, CABARET SHOWGIRL, and FANTASY demonstrated a willingness to embrace the sensual aspects of dance.

With the legendary Bill Acosta

One of Tonya’s proudest achievements is her professional relationship with iconic magician Lance Burton:

“I ended this show run with closing Lance Burton’s show, which was an honor and a privilege. He was great to work for and a good person. I went back in for his last four months. I am the last assistant to perform the main levitation trick with him in that show. I also loved the Club Paradise gig; we had a lot of creative freedom.”

“After that, I took a break from steady production show work. There was nothing I wanted to go into, and I had become disenchanted for a bit with the industry. Lance was also a hard act to follow. So, I took a show break but gigged and did some one-offs. Still was dancing but decided to start mostly focusing on burlesque, belly dancing, and the post-dance life.”

The art of belly-dancing became a prime focus in Tovias’ personal and professional growth. More than just a dance, it’s a mindset and lifestyle, rich in Egyptian culture and history.

“Belly dance is something I started when I moved here. I reopened the Aladdin that summer of 2000 and kept training through the years. I love the history of belly dancing. Some styles of dance will just come to you more naturally than others and I’ve been fortunate to learn from great teachers. I love when I get to book a belly-dance gig.”

Another passion has been Tonya’s commitment to animals. Rescuing and fostering them takes up a great deal of her time and energy, but also fills her heart in a way that few things can. Animal fostering often leads to keeping the pet, a situation known as “foster fail”. And that’s not a bad thing.

“I found a little black cat in the parking lot of the Luxor in April of ’08 and I ended up keeping her…so she would kind of be my foster failure. She passed away Jan. ’21 so I had her for almost thirteen years.”

“My first foster through a local rescue was a black chow named Fluffy. I had him for six weeks. He came to me on Christmas Eve of 2019 and went to his forever home the first week of February 2020. That was a hard goodbye. I fostered another chow, Shylo, for a week in Feb of 2020. Then the shutdown happened.”
“My friend Smithy had moved in with me right before that, luckily, because the next dog I fostered was pregnant. Aspen (now Kona) was dropped off that Memorial Day weekend. She slowly came out of her shell and when we took her to be spayed, the vet informed us she was pregnant. Smithy and I tackled the puppy experience full throttle, helped find homes, and both kept a puppy for ourselves. It was work but worth it. I couldn’t have done it by myself, that’s for sure.”
Friendship is invaluable in the Vegas entertainment industry, especially when working together or vying for the same roles. The field of dancing is quite competitive, and it helps to get along. Now Tonya is in a close-knit group at BurlesQ, and she couldn’t be happier.
“Women work way more here (Las Vegas) and for way longer. There’s just more for women. The bigger the cast, the more the drama, especially if it’s co-ed.  We’re a small group with Sean (E. Cooper) being the lone male, so we get along great. We’re all seasoned adults.”
“My cast mate JuJu Bea helped me with my stage name (“Tricky Tatiana”). She used the word “tricky” to describe my act for a project we were working on together. “Tricky Tatiana’ was born. Definitely, an alter ego, like Black Cat/Felicia Hardy. I also wanted to keep the double “T.”
As in my interview with castmate Kelly Long, I asked Tonya if she had trepidations about launching BurlesQ during the pandemic. Here’s what she had to say.
“Yes, but it was worth being a part of and I trusted the person, Cari Byers, who asked me to be involved. I was also knee-deep in the Paralegal Program through UNLV’s Continuing Education, so the whole opening experience was stressful. School and homework by day, rehearsals at night. I completed the paralegal program with one of the highest scores in the class.”
Like Ms. Long, the evolution of Tonya’s dance career from traditional forms to burlesque was another subject that Tonya shared with me:
“In the beginning, I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I had been in shows that were very choreographed. But then I started seeing performances in one-offs, YouTube, etc., of burlesque performers. Women of all different shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and ages. There’s inclusivity in burlesque that you don’t see in the production show world.”
“There was also a lot of room for improv, character work, satire, silliness, and your own personality could shine through. I had my first set of fans made here in LV in late ’09 and I started slowly working towards focusing my energy on burlesque and belly dancing.”
Photo by Wade Vandervort for LAS VEGAS WEEKLY
All of those fans, feathers, sequins and hours of practice landed Tonya on the cover of Las Vegas Weekly last spring. The accompanying article, written by Brock Radke, highlighted BurlesQ, Alexis Park Resort, and other small productions and venues that kept entertainment alive during the devastating two-year shutdown.
Now that the show is chugging along nicely and about to celebrate its 300th performance on July 30th, Tonya can take a deeper breath and enjoy the benefits of living in the Las Vegas Valley. Her favorite productions are Atomic Saloon Show and Magic Mike Live, and she confessed that her ideal fantasy evening would be “dinner at Chikyu Vegan Sushi with Brad Pitt.”
“A perfect day off includes a pool, my dogs, friends, a good vegan meal, no phone calls or emails, and being home at night, watching an old movie on Turner Classics or some good sci-fi like Star Wars or Logan’s Run.”
When she does go out on the town, the sometimes actress is often recognized for thirty episodes of MTV’s “Say What? Karaoke” and the long-running HBO series ENTOURAGE But she’s best known for her role in the camp classic SHOWGIRLS from director Paul Verhoeven.
“The audition for the movie was actually in LA and cast out of LA. The interior showroom scenes were shot in Tahoe at the Horizon, as there were no available showrooms in Vegas. The Horizon’s showroom looked enough like the Stardust’s to pass for it. I’m in the audition scene and we shot for two days in Tahoe. That audition was huge…two days. I made it to the end and was happy to book work off of it.”
As many live shows struggled to return, a number of entertainers left the field for more traditional roles. I asked Tonya Tovias what words of wisdom she would offer those uncertain about a future in show business.
“Always have a backup plan – shows/gigs open, close, start, and finish at a moment’s notice. Have a savings account and a retirement fund. And learn to be flexible. Don’t be afraid to wear a different hat in the entertainment industry. Stage managing, casting, production assistant, brand ambassador, an assistant at a talent agency, etc., are all legit gigs in this industry. Choreographer, wardrobe, stylist, hair, make-up, the list is endless of other opportunities in entertainment. Sometimes the day will take you to a whole new playing field. Give it a shot.”
Tonya Tovias is living proof that giving Vegas a shot can indeed pay off. You can see much more of the multi-faceted entertainer every Friday through Sunday at Alexis Park Resort. Showtime is 9:30 pm. Tickets start at $49.95 plus taxes/fees and can be ordered here. Audience members must be 21 years of age or older. 

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