Even if you are not into pin–up pictures and have never heard about burlesque art, you must have heard about Dita von Teese, – a popular American burlesque artist and fetish model, who got married to Marilyn Manson in 2005. Having achieved an underground status already, she managed to bring her act to the mainstream media and with it – her own brand of elegance and glamour to sexy entertainment…
Dita, how would you describe your work as a “burlesque artist” to someone who hasn’t heard about this before?
Burlesque was a live variety show that was very popular from the 1920’s-1950 in America. The humor was a little racy and somewhat sexual at times, and the headliners of the shows were the striptease artists. Many of the most famous burlesque stars had a gimmick that they were known for, and they would perform with an orchestra and their shows had higher production values to what you might see in the average modern strip club. Some of the biggest names in burlesque went on to become mainstream stars, and that isn’t really the norm these days for modern strippers.
I perform classic burlesque. I am most known for my lavish costumes and unique stage props, and I travel all over the world and perform my show at all kinds of events, from fetish clubs to celebrity parties and for high profile clients like Louis Vuitton and Chopard. It’s rare that I perform as a part of a full length burlesque revue like the burlesque stars from the old days, most often I am a solo performer in a theatre or at a party.
What is your earliest memory of “Burlesque” and was this the starting point of your interest or did it take a while ‘till you really got into it?
I saw Natalie Wood in Gypsy when I was a little girl but it wasn’t until I was of age in 1991 that I pursued a career as a striptease dancer.
What makes the 1930’s and 1940’s so fascinating for you?
It was a time when our beauty icons were glamorous! Women dressed elegantly every day and every night. The style of those eras is not only super-chic even in this decade, but it’s also very wearable…. unlike those pesky hoop skirts and bonnets from other eras!
You named yourself Dita- after the film actress Dita Parlo –how come? And what is the story behind the second part of your name “von Teese”?
When I began working in strip club in the early 90′s I chose that name because I was really interested in the silent film era. Later on, when I posed for Playboy, I chose the last name Von Teese… sort of. I found the name “Von Treese” in the phone book and they misprinted it “Von Teese”. It’s nice to have a stage name; it’s the classic old Hollywood thing to do! No one used their real names, ever!
As with all artistic jobs the most difficult part is getting started and recognized. Having achieved an underground status – how did you manage to get this recognition by an audience that is getting larger and larger? How has this affected you and your life?
I just kept at it and did what I believed in for 16 years, and somehow it all paid off. I’ve done a lot of work and I strived to be as good as I can be at what I do, so I guess sometimes that pays off in the end.
Of course I am thrilled to have the recognition, and it’s really great to have the opportunities to see the world and to have the ways and means to create bigger and better acts, which is what I always wanted to do most of all. I do not see a varying reaction that I would chalk up to what nationality my audience is, usually it depends on the type of event it is, how many people are there and whether they are super-fans that bought tickets or if I’m am performing for a new audience. I like both kinds of audiences, both have their own challenges…. I feel I have to be at my best so as not to let anyone down from what they read about me, and on the other token, if I am not well-known with an audience, I still have to be at my best so I can win them over! It wouldn’t be smart to just be overly confident and ride off my fame as a burlesque dancer.
You are a classically trained dancer and a trained costume designer. Do you design your own outfits for your shows?
I work together with my best friend Catherine D’Lish. We come up with ideas for new acts together and she makes the costumes by hand. Together we work out how it all comes together. The number one rule is that each and every costume is more extravagant than the last one.
With all the experience you have in this business now, what advice would you give to yourself when you had just started?
I think that I did all the right things, actually, in a way. I made mistakes, but all of those mistakes are part of who I am and what got me here today. I wouldn’t change a thing, and from the very start of my career, I always reminded myself that everyone is replaceable so it’s important not to get too big-headed. I agree with what Diane von Furstenberg said. …She said that when a person begins to believe their own press release they are finished!
What would you like to achieve next – professionally and also as a private person?
Professionally, I am in the process of creating a full length burlesque revue that can travel the world. And as a private person? Well, if I told you it wouldn’t be private!
Where and how often do you usually perform your shows? What kind of reaction & feedback do you usually get from your audience? Can you see a different reaction depending in which country you perform?
Sometimes I perform once a month, sometimes 20 times a month. It’s varies. Last month I traveled from country to country for two months solid. I’ve performed in many countries, but mostly in England, France and the USA.
Outside of your life and passion as a performer & artist, what other interests do you have?
I collect all kinds of things from the past. I also do a lot of traveling to see places of great beauty. I want to fill my life with wonderful and beautiful sights! I like to see historic homes, visit museums, and famous landmarks. I love to see things I have read about in books.
Do you have a motto in life…?
“Living well is the best revenge”, which was said by a great poet of the 16th century.
Many thanks for the time!
Interview by Sigrun Guggenberger