Dita Von Teese: "In My Sexual Fantasies, Things Are Not Politically Correct"
Photo by Ali Mahdavi Check out a 14-photo sneak peek of Dita Von Teese's Strip Strip Hooray!
Anyone that has spent more than few nights carousing Fort Lauderdale's retro-centric bars has undoubtedly encountered one of the area's many burlesque troupes. In 2014, the style of striptease popularized in the '40s is hotter than ever. For that (and the barrage of secondhand glitter you may experience at a show), you can thank model, actress, designer, and most importantly, burlesque star Dita Von Teese.
Von Teese was at the forefront of the neo-burlesque movement in the early '90s and has since developed into the form's greatest champion, conservationist, and performer. The curvaceous brunette idealizes the glamour and panache of burlesque. She appears like an actualization of a Vargas painting or the nose art of a B-52. Von Teese has earned the adoration of fans the world over and will be bringing her critically lauded variety show, Strip Strip Hooray, to Revolution on April 10 and 11.
New Times spoke with the charming Von Teese about everything from originality in burlesque to what defines feminism in her line of work.
New Times: You were certainly on the cutting edge of burlesque's resurgence in the '90s. How do you feel about where it is headed in 2014?
Dita Von Teese: Well, I feel like having lived through all of the different eras of it so far -- not all of them -- but, the neo-burlesque scene and watching how it's evolved in the last 20 years, it's incredible! I think right now is a great time because I think it's really evolving where there are so many people doing it, and I think we're going to see even better performers than we ever have, like the stakes are getting higher.
It's going to get really competitive, so I think it's going to force people to think of new ways to reinvent the spirit of burlesque without copying each other -- because nobody cares if you're a copy of something, you know? So, now it's got to like really evolve and I think that makes it exciting and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens!
On originality: Where does one draw the line between being a copy and being a tribute?
Hmm... That's tricky because I've definitely dealt with that a lot in my life! It's really tricky. A tribute, technically, should be really vocal about being a tribute. Like, every time they go on stage, they should be like, "This is a tribute!" So, it's a little like a fine line because at whatever level you are at as a performer, you're still a person and you still have feelings about being ripped off. I think sometimes people forget about that, and you've got to tread lightly just because it's not right unless you've made a decision to be a tribute and claim that.
With the proliferation of burlesque in recent years, are there any performers you admire these days?
I think they're all in my show! I basically sought out all of my favorite burlesque performers from all over the world and put them in this show! I have Lada Nikolska, who is one of the great stars of the Crazy Horse in Paris where I've performed many times, and I just fell in love with her, and I just felt like people should see a little piece of that historic cabaret, so we've managed to put that in our show.
Catherine D'lish, who is a long time collaborator and best friend of mine, who is also in the show and does an amazing act that she's been doing for a long time that has been copied the world over several times. But she's an incredible performer, devoted performer.
Dirty Martini, who has also been around since the beginnings of the neo-burlesque movement and really represents a voluptuous brand of beauty that I completely admire and I think she's a show stopping performer. Perle Noire, who brings down the house every time. I always put her up right before my finale number because her energy is incredible, and she's a great performer.
For me, it was really important to choose burlesque performers I think are diverse and who are doing their own, distinctive thing, and they didn't just look at what I did and say "Oh, I have to do that if I'm going to be a famous burlesque performer." They've all gotten in touch with who they specifically are and they carry their own. Every single act that's in the show, I'm super proud to be along side of.
It was no small feat because there's a lot of people that just see other burlesque acts and copy them, but there's a lot of people that didn't have anyone to really watch to copy. There's a whole collection of us that started early on that had to just decide what we were going to do that suited our personalities instead of just saying, "Oh, that's what a burlesque act looks like."
When I started making a burlesque show, I had nothing to watch. I had Gypsy with Natalie Wood on VHS to watch, and I had books to read. So, I had to make up things. And I think that's one of the problems with the modern burlesque movement is that people see things and then they don't really know what to do other than to do just what they saw.
It seems to me that most creative fields these days suffer from people that have a hard time taking influence without taking intellectual property.
It's hard because it can be fairly true that everything has been done before, but I think there is definitely ways around it, and there's amazing performers in the burlesque scene that have managed to capture the spirit of what burlesque is about.
Who says that burlesque has to be set in the 1940s? Who says that is has to be? I think that's a big thing that in the evolution of burlesque, the very wise ones will get very deeply into what burlesque is and they won't be thinking, "Oh, it's this era, this aesthetic," and they'll start thinking: Why is a burlesque show is great to watch and what are the base elements of a great burlesque show. And they'll start making things based on that instead of just the aesthetic, so I think that would be exciting.