QUICK FIRE WARM UP
It depends. I’ll do glitter lips for large theatres and also for certain acts. With some types of lighting, lipstick without glitter just looks better, and also, different shades of red work better with different types of lighting. I’ll also consider whether it’s being photographed or filmed.
I write about how the lighting affects my lipstick color and texture choices in my book, Your Beauty Mark. There’s a whole chapter about how I adapt beauty for the stage.
Dance shoes or stilettos?
My very first shows were in pointe shoes. In the early 90s, I often feather fan-danced and stripped en pointe. When it comes to heels, I prefer showcasing a complicated, fetishistic wardrobe over showing off my dance ability, which I’ve always felt is limited despite a lifetime of dance experience.
My early obsessions with corsets, full-fashioned stockings and perilously high high heels are what sparked my burlesque career in the first place. There’s something I always liked about just giving the audience a good long look, and making complicated stripteases seem effortless. I’ve also always loved taking off my shoes and dancing without shoes, because I have high arches, and can stay on demi-pointe through an entire act. I enjoy playing into various fetishisms in my shows. Corsets, super high heels, foot-tease….
Enter with music or start on-stage?
It depends on the act, and whether it’s for my revues or a private party. My preference is always starting onstage with a curtain reveal with some kind of set-up behind it. But it’s not always the case, sometimes there’s an existing tableau like with my act “Lazy.”
Bumps, Grinds, Shakes or Shimmies?
Shimmies. I like little ones…thrown in as almost an afterthought. I like everything to look natural.
Dermablend or Sally Hansen?
All the tattooed gals in the 90s era strip club I worked in were using Dermablend for total coverage, so I’ve used it mixed with various other potions. After they changed the formula, it all washed off in my martini glass right away, so I started working on my own makeup blend. It should come out next year.
To wig or not to wig?
I rarely wear a wig or fall unless it’s for color change. I’ve tried having prepped wigs for a show, but it’s almost always more trouble than it’s worth, and to me they feel inhibiting.
Favorite Body Part?
I’m thankful for my pliable waist that loves to wear a corset.
Last thing you do before the curtain opens?
Very, VERY last thing? I quit fretting about the act. I let it all go, and then take in the moment, remembering that the “showbiz feeling” might not always be there for me.
Dressing room must have?
SOOOOO many things. Honestly, so much makeup, super bright lights from every angle, a fun companion to help me dress, a playlist of favorite singalong music, icy cold champagne with ice in it…I could go on and on and on.
AND NOW THAT YOU’RE WARMED UP….
What was your introduction to burlesque?
In the early 90s, I was already dressing in vintage style and wearing my hair in victory rolls. I segued from rave-scene gogo-dancer to working in a strip club, adapting my same look to striptease. I was also a well-known pin-up girl; I had the first-ever true vintage style website, featuring my reproduction pinup photos. I started researching burlesque around 1992, a bit AFTER I was stripping dressed in my corsets. I had this VHS tape with Sally Rand fan dancing and bubble dancing, with clips from Gypsy and a few other old films with burlesque scenes, and some of the Irving Klaw and Lili St. Cyr footage on it. That was really all I had to emulate, besides looking at burlesque photos and a few old books.
I was performing as a headliner in gentlemen’s clubs across the US and in Europe as a Playboy magazine star and would perform at some burlesque events like Teasorama. I never did Exotic World, even though I was friends with Dixie Evans and many of the early competition winners like Toni Alessandrini. Unfortunately, I was booked on jobs every time the Miss Exotic World weekender happened, so I never managed to be there. But I’d visit Dixie and chat with her on the phone for hours about the pageant. She actually coached me on feather fan dancing over the phone—she said, “Just act like your fans are your wings!!”
When did you know you had what it took?
I think I finally accepted it as a “real” career when I was on the cover of Playboy in 2002, and even then, I always conscientiously had other irons in the fire, and cultivated other skills.
Who is your inspiration?
I most often looked to 1940’s era musicals and thought “can I make that a striptease?” Catherine D’Lish has had a huge influence on me ever since we met in 2000. When we came together as creative partners, it was magic; having her by my side for all this definitely makes her my biggest inspiration. We have always had a mutual respect for each other, maintaining our distinctiveness in the relationship. I respect her more than I can say; she’s literally had more firsts in this business than anyone. Her influence is seen so far and wide, and has been imitated so often, that people probably don’t even realize where the ideas first originated. I don’t mean to diminish anyone else’s contribution, but she deserves her credit. She showed a lot of us what was possible, especially with the evolution of costuming, feather fans innovation, stage prop, and show concepts.
Assuming it doesn’t say Dita Von Teese on your birth certificate, where did your stage name come from?
“Dita” was my strip club name, first used in 1991. “Von Teese” came from my first Playboy Book of Lingerie appearance in 1994. I picked “Von Treese” from the phone book while drinking a wine cooler at the strip club bar, and Playboy misprinted it “Von Teese”. I tried to change it, but they kept printing it that way. I didn’t really think any of it through…back then, this was all just a hobby. I honestly didn’t think it was possible to become a burlesque star in modern times.
What percentage of Dita Von Teese would we see if we ran into you at the grocery store?
Red lips, hair pulled back, ballet flats, vintage dress. I’m not sure what percentage that is, but it’s recognizable, apparently.
What is your signature move?
Unlacing a corset. As far as the burlesque history books go, the corset wasn’t really a staple in the 1930’s-50’s stripper’s wardrobe. Some of the burlesque elders that were around at that time described it as granny’s underwear! I started wearing corsets because I was working in a lingerie store, looking at lingerie history, and working for a corset manufacturer in the early 90s when I started performing. They were free to me, so I built costumes around them, with matching skirts and bras.
What is your favorite costume piece of all time?
I’m always astonished by the feats of Swarovski that Catherine comes up with. And Mister Pearl has made some mind boggling things for me that put the fear of the Showbiz Gods in me, some real Houdini style challenges.
What is your most embarrassing on-stage mishap
I mean, there is embarrassing….and there are mishaps. Nothing is more embarrassing than tripping or falling, but that’s not really a story to tell. There are too many mishaps to list, unbelievable ones. The next book after Your Beauty Mark and my upcoming book for 2021, Fashioning the Femme Totale, is all showbiz, so I guess I’ll start gathering those stories soon.
What was the best performance of your career so far?
It’s hard to say if the most special and memorable moments were necessarily my BEST performances, but there have been so many.
Bringing my full show into the beautiful, historic Opera Garnier de Monte Carlo with HRH Prince Albert in the audience, cheering wildly in the Royal Box for the bull riding finale, ranks high. And at The Crazy Horse Paris and learning Crazy Horse choreography for weeks on end. After doing more than 65 consecutive shows, I would guess that my performance was refined more than the one-offs.
Certain shows for fashion brands and such have felt triumphant…especially performing my glass act in places that were unexpected. There’s something about performing burlesque out of context for an audience that’s never seen anything like it before. It can make it incredibly nerve-wracking as a performer, but also exhilarating too. I’ve had to go up after Pharell and before Kanye West, and at the Cannes Film Festival in front of every big movie star and producer in town. It feels like getting on the biggest roller coaster… you get SO nervous climbing that first hill, feeling fear and even regret for getting on that ride…. but then the ride starts and it’s so much fun, even the experience you dream of… for me, it’s changing people’s minds about striptease.
What is your favorite venue?
The London Palladium and Folies Bergere. If all goes well, if showbiz gets back on track, I have a week of sold out nights at The Palladium and three nights at Folies. Palladium is always special; always packed, the energy is high, and it feels special. Erik Lee Preminger told me performing there was his mother’s career highlight.
I did Folies for a week not too long ago with the Jean Paul Gaultier show. I’d arrive hours early to go exploring and the manager would show me all the secrets of the place. I look forward to being back there with the Glamonatrix show. It’s so fancy, dripping in glamour and history. If you decide to travel somewhere to see the show, that’s a good place to see it.
How much do you ACTUALLY work out?
There have been times I work out five days a week. There have been times it’s three times a week. Sometimes not at all for a while. I say just try to keep moving, and forgive yourself for the times when you can’t or don’t want too. I try to think of how fortunate I am to have a body with the ability to work out, more than seeing it as something I have to do to look good. I want to feel strong, above all.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Calm dressing room, music that isn’t burlesque music, ample time to do hair and makeup, time for warming up and socializing with my cast and crew….and a few sips of the iciest, fizziest champagne possible.
If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?
I’d love it if there were more nightclubs for burlesque dancers, with money flowing, like it was in the 90s in strip joints. I loved being able to work often, being able to save money, and I’d like that for other dancers. Being able to get lots of stage time is the best way to become a good performer. Rehearsal is great, but nothing’s better than experience, and getting paid for it.
What would you be doing if it wasn’t burlesque?
I’ve always had multiple jobs to fall back on, and even now, I pay close attention to what brings income aside from performing. I think growing up feeling the stress of my father being out of work at times motivated me as an adult to make sure I have more than one thing I can do. Plus…even in my twenties and thirties, people have been reminding me that showbiz doesn’t last forever.
During the pandemic, with the tour being postponed, I’ve focused on my lingerie collection, writing my third book with Harper Collins, and clearing out my closets with a shop on Depop.com/ditavonteese. It’s been quite fun to revisit all my vintage archives and decide what to part with.
If I REALLY hadn’t ever been a burlesque performer, it’s hard to say what would have been my actual job, but I’ve always had many interests in the “glamour biz,” and an eye for detail.
What would you like to be remembered for?
Showing people it’s possible to be a burlesque star in modern times.
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