She's pretty much the pinnacle of burlesque, and ever since she started back in 1992, Dita Von Teese has embodied the glitz and glamour of striptease on an international level. Outfitted with the title of the Queen of Burlesque, Von Teese performs to sold-out shows in Los Angeles and has been a guest star of The Crazy Horse in Paris.
But now that she's been touring in Europe for the past few years, she's bringing her show, Burlesque: Strip, Strip Hooray!, back stateside on a Southern tour through New Orleans and Houston, and she makes a stop in between at the House of Blues in Dallas tomorrow.
Dita's going to be splashing her feet in her oversized, shiny new Swarovski martini glass, stripping out her rhinestone cowgirl costume and performing with other women of the trade including Dirty Martini, Selene Luna and Lada of The Crazy Horse. And Von Teese has some unique insights into what's led to her regal role, what performing means to her and where her career in burlesque is leading her.
What's been the biggest inspiration in your career? It's hard to say because I feel there are so many different things that led me to this. I'm going on my twentieth year performing burlesque, so I can't really say it's been any one person or any one thing because I really studied up a lot on the history of burlesque and there are a lot of different people that I was inspired by. Besides, when I started performing burlesque there was no internet yet, and there wasn't much access to authentic burlesque footage or anything like that, so I had make up a lot of things where I thought it might be according to the pictures I was looking at in books and in vintage magazines that I collected. I think that's one of the things that makes my show a little bit different as it comes from not really knowing what burlesque was. I think that's a little bit of a problem now.
It's easy for people to Google and look up Youtube videos of various burlesque performers from the past and the present and to derive that that is what burlesque is, whereas I had to really use my imagination about what it was.
So it was a create-as-you-go experience? Yeah, I really didn't know what it was, and by the time I saw what it really was, I was sort of glad that I had used my own ballet and dance background to form my show, instead of trying to mimic the burlesque of that era [in] which some of the dancing style is much different than what I do. It was like the real bump and grind and hip-thrust kind of thing, so I was glad that I wasn't trying to imitate anything.
How do you feel when people call you the Queen of Burlesque? Well I feel obviously honored, but I feel like in my career I've definitely paid my dues. I've spent a lot of time doing my show in little tiny strip clubs and nightclubs and really paying my dues, so I don't think it's undeserved because I didn't just start performing a year ago or two years ago and try to jump on the bandwagon.
It's been a really long, and sometimes not-easy journey of performing because I loved it and there was no big payoff. I feel really happy that I'm at the forefront of it because it's something I believed in this whole time whereas a lot of people didn't believe in it. So, I don't feel like it was a title I didn't earn at some point, and if you'd been there with me you could see what I mean by that.
Describe how you feel just before a performance. I'm always nervous, not like paralyzed nervous, but I just want to do a good show and there are a lot of factors that come together in having a good performance. Some of them are in my control, and some of them are beyond my control. I'm just really focusing, and I'm nervous about how I can deal with the things that potentially go wrong on stage.
I just want to make sure when I leave the stage it's a triumphant show and not a "I probably could have done that better" kind of thing, and I feel that when I'm not nervous, if I don't really care, that's when things go wrong. So I like that nervous energy.
What's it like after one of your triumphant shows? Because I create these shows myself, and I don't have a team of people that are doing them for me, it's like everything is really hands on, and it's really personal for me. It's my own money. I'm not like a pop star who has the record label funding their show. This is my own show. This is my own dream. Everything invested is my own, and so it's really personal for me when I go up there.
When I feel like it was good, and I performed a show the way it was meant to be seen, and everything was on point--all the lighting was right, the staging was right, my performance was right, and the costumes cooperated with me--when everything falls into place and goes right it's really everything I ever worked for.
What are your interests outside of performing? I'm kind of consumed by my work, because my work is something that always came from my hobbies, and so they're all intertwined. I can't say I have some hobby that's completely unrelated to what I do. On a weekend or a Sunday afternoon when I want to relax, I love to go to antique flea markets and collect vintage books about burlesque and vintage clothes, and everything's sort of intertwined into what I do. There's not really something that's completely apart from my work. Everything's a little bit related.
What is the number one thing people should know about burlesque? If you'd walked into a burlesque theater in the 1930s or 1940s you would have seen G-strings, pasties, sometimes even less, because these were women that were doing a racy show that was geared toward men, and we all know for the most part - with the exception of a few performers - the ones that brought down the house were the ones who went a little bit racy with it. In the footlights, they had a red light and a green light. The red light said the police were in the house, and the green light said you were free and clear to do what you wanted to do. So, I think that the misconception about burlesque is that it was all feathers and rhinestones and dancing girls and singing. There was no singing in burlesque back then apart from a little something here and there, but it wasn't about song and dance as much as it was about the striptease performance. The headliners of these burlesque shows became the strippers, because that's what people came to see.
I should also mention that in the burlesque revival now is undoubtedly a female audience. I would say about 80 percent of my fan base is comprised of women. A lot of women are finding these shows inspiring. They like to see this form of sensuality, and they find it uplifting and inspiring to see something done tastefully, artfully and beautifully, and see sex portrayed in a playful and beautiful way.
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Where do you see your career going and what else would you like to achieve? It's funny, because when I started doing this when I was like 20 years old I thought it was just a hobby, and I could have never imagined my 30-something-self touring burlesque. When you're that age you can't really imagine it. I didn't think it was something I would keep doing, and I didn't think my career was gonna unfold like this. I thought I was making funny, little shows in the strip club and in the fetish club. I think I'm very conscientious of saving my money and preparing for the future, because I've always done that. But I have a lot of other projects in the works.
I have a fragrance coming out and a makeup line and another book and a lingerie line and a clothing line, so I have a lot of projects going on that I hope I can continue working on. The one thing that I'll really stick with and am especially talented at is designing lingerie. One of my first jobs was working a lingerie store and it's something I know that I'm good at. Also, I'd love to get more into producing shows for other people, to create shows and finally be on the other side of it, because not only am I creating my shows and performing them, I never get to see what they really look like. So I would love to be able to create the kind of shows that I perform for someone else. That would be the ultimate goal I think.
Dita Von Teese's Burlesque: Strip, Strip Hooray! starts at 8pm tomorrow at the House of Blues Dallas. Call 214-978-2583 or visit houseofblues.com for tickets and more information.