Dita Von Teese on her New Show, 'The Art of the Teese'
If anyone is responsible for the Burlesque revival of the past few years, it is Dita Von Teese, the multi-talented performer who brings her newest show "The Art of the Teese" to the House of Blues on February 21.
Von Teese came to burlesque at the age of 20 in 1992, due in part to her life-long fascination with musical films from Hollywood's Golden Age and her dream of reviving the long-dormant theatrical form in ways to make it relevant for today's audiences. Her has said that she wants "puts the tease back into striptease" and her success has made her the most successful burlesque dancer since Gypsy Rose Lee.
And just as Lee was successful in other endeavors, Von Teese is a best-selling author, actress, clothing designer, model and darling of some of the world's best-known fashion designers. According to an interview in the British newspaper The Telegraph, Vivienne Westwood once described her as "mind-boggling, with the smallest waist, like a drawing from a fairytale, like Snow White." And Jean Paul Gaultier once offered her to visit his couture archive. "There were gowns they don't even let out to the Academy Awards," Von Teese told the newspaper, "and Mr. Gaultier said, 'If you want to wear this stuff to the grocery store, feel free.'"
Her 2005 marriage to Marilyn Manson was featured in the pages of Vogue. (They divorced a year later.) Since then she toured with the late George Michael (stripping in his show), appeared on such television shows as "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "Project Runway" and "RuPaul's Drag Race," and created her own lingerie line while still touring the world with her burlesque revues.
EDGE spoke to Ms. Von Teese recently about her name, upcoming show and why she loves burlesque.
About her name
EDGE: How did your burlesque name come about?
Dita Von Teese: In the early 1990s, I was working in a strip club and I was asked to pose for Playboy. I wanted to use just my first name, but I was told I had to have a last name. After searching through the phonebook, I gave them 'Von Treese,' but when they printed my name they misspelled it to 'Von Teese.' I loved it, so I kept it.
EDGE: What influenced you to become a burlesque dancer?
Dita Von Teese: As a little girl, I was a ballerina and I loved to dance, but I was not very good at it. I loved watching old Hollywood movies with my mom and wanted to be like Betty Grable or Rita Haywood. As a teenager, I started styling myself in the vintage retro style.
EDGE: How does this new show 'The Art of the Teese' differ from what you have done in the past?
Dita Von Teese: I toured with my old show for about six years and it seemed to be pretty successful. With this new show, I wanted to capture the spirit of what has worked for me in my other shows, while creating something new and exciting.
Not about sex
EDGE: For anyone who is not familiar with your show, what can you tell us about it?
Dita Von Teese: My burlesque show is a spinoff of the old vaudeville shows from the 1920s and 1930s. It a variety show just like the ones that Sally Rand and Gypsy Rose Lee would perform. Its roots were geared to the working man. It was not about sex. Its modern form has become an unlikely feminist movement. Now, it is very fashionable and more women attend my shows then men. Some men do attend, but it is on the arms of their wives or girlfriends. I also love that fact that I have a huge LGBT following. They make the best fans. What I love most about burlesque now is that the performers are more diverse in shape, color, and age. It takes a lot to display an incredible stage presence while showing what real sexuality is.
EDGE: What's your favorite thing about performing burlesque?
Dita Von Teese: My favorite part is the art of creation. When I am putting together a show for the first time, I am always uncertain whether it is good or not. I love the validation from the fans when it turns out good. The show itself is a big process to put on. The best part for me is creating the costumes, the music, and the choreography. It is not something that I make a lot of money from, especially because all the money goes to the costumes. I love my job and I believe it there is no other show in the world like it. It gives me a great sense of pride and purpose.
Burlesque evolving still
EDGE: How has burlesque changed over the years?
Dita Von Teese: Oh yes! There are a few living legends around that I am honored to have gotten to know. It really has evolved and has become more mainstream. Burlesque is still creating something new, but continues to keep the spirit of the classic 1930s and 1940s, but with a modern touch.
EDGE: How does the art of burlesque empower you as a woman?
Dita Von Teese: It has given me a creative outlet. When I started out, I was not thinking I would become inspiring to others. I believed that the others saw the confidence I had in myself and it helped them too. Glamour is not something you are born with; it is something that you learn to accentuate.
What is sexy?
EDGE: In your opinion, what is the one thing that makes a person sexy?
Dita Von Teese: It is confidence and having a real sense of self. Not trying to be like others, but focusing on what makes you different. I believe there is power in these things and it is what makes us unique and different. I used burlesque to turn myself into something I wanted to be and it helped to counteract my shyness.
EDGE: Over the years, you've had a few cameos in films and TV, is acting something you would like to explore more of?
Dita Von Teese: I do love acting because it takes me out of my comfort zone and challenges me. I didn't set out to be an actor, I set out to be the greatest dancer that I could be.
EDGE: For you, what is most important to building your brand?
Dita Von Teese: Authenticity is number one. Always be true to yourself. I just don't put my name on anything that I am not obsessed with. There needs to be a personal connection. My lingerie line is my favorite, because it is not about sex, but about feeling like a lady. I love my book on beauty and finding that inner vintage glamour and the effect that it has on oneself.
Dita Von Teese brings "The Art of the Teese" to Boston's House of Blues on Tuesday, February 21. For more information visit the House of Blues website.
For more information about Dita, including her upcoming dates, visit visit her Facebook page.
Watch this clip of Dita Von Teese performing: