Dita Von Teese is in town! Here’s the transcript of our stripped back chat on dreams, beauty, boys and becoming who you are. (Original article published in Brisbane News.)
How are you and where are you right now?
I just walked in the door in LA. I just got off the plane.
Tell us about the show you’re bringing to Australia.
The show I’m bringing there is called is called Strip Strip Hooray. It’s a 90 minute long revue. I’ve been touring this show for three or four years in America. And the premise is basically I wanted to give people a full night of burlesque. I wanted to show my life’s work in one show, and put all my most lavish numbers all in one show. I pulled together a support cast of all my very favourite burlesque performers. I’ve selected a few of my favourite performers to come to Australia, and this will be the first time the show has ever left the United States.
Will we see the famous martini glass?
Of course. I’ve reinvented the martini glass in several different ways over the past 15 or 16 years that I’ve been doing it. So everyone will see my latest version.
Your show is called Strip Strip Hooray. Obviously you’re not afraid of the word striptease, why is that?
I think one of the main reasons is that the slang time for exotic dancer, burlesque dancer, comes from the 1940s. Stripper is a 1940s word for a burlesque dancer, that was when it was first coined. Of course, when you think of stripper these days, a lot of people think of the modern version, pole dancing, but really it’s 1930s era slang.
I’m not afraid of the word. (Laughs) I don’t find a negative connotation with it. Gypsy Rose Lee said she loves the word stripper because they said that they made a fancy word for her called ecdysias, but she said she didn’t like it, she preferred the word stripper.
What I want to know is why don’t we see more men on stage?
I have lots of men in my show. I have three men in my show and I think I have three men and four women, so there’s a balance in my show. It’s important for me to show diversity in my show, so you’ll find a show-stopping cast of very unique performances and they’re not all pretty little girls, we’re all different shapes and sizes and ethnicities and of course we have some amazing men in the show.
There’s been a huge resurgence in burlesque for men performing and creating shows keeping in the spirit of classic burlesque with the production levels and faithful ideas and intelligent acts. There’s been a kind of resurgence in that, lately in burlesque, and so you’re seeing a lot more of it, but of course, historically, if you think of how burlesque was in its heyday of the 1930s and 40s it was really geared towards men. It was easy to see a nearly nude girl disrobing on stage. (Laughs) It was entertainment geared towards men and so it’s been turned upside down and people who are going to see a burlesque show today are predominantly female. So I don’t think you can generalise at all any more about why aren’t there more men, why aren’t there more women, the audiences are diverse, the performers are diverse. It’s not what it once was.
I think we all have a bit of masculine and feminine energy. I was watching Prince videos last night and I was thinking what an amazing creature.
Oh yes, definitely…
How did you feel as a girl growing up about that concept of beauty – I think I’ve heard you say that glamour is not something you’re born with but what you can create which I really liked. Tell me a little bit more about that.
I grew up in a small farming town in Michigan. I’m a natural blonde. My mother loved watch old movies so my first experience was seeing female movie stars, or stars like Betty Grable or Rita Heyworth and Marilyn Monroe, so I grew up thinking, when I’m going to be a grown-up I’m going to be like that, it never really occurred to me that people didn’t dress that way anymore. But I remember getting my hands on my first tube of red lipstick and how that changed my life, and changed how I felt and gave me confidence and made me feel a little bit closer to those movie stars, that I could be a little bit like them. And it sort of snowballed from there. I wanted to capture that. I wanted to give myself that big Hollywood makeover. I studied photos, I studied videos and taught myself how to create my own persona. To create my own glamorous look. So for as long I’ve been allowed to choose my own clothes and wear make-up, I’ve never strayed from that idea and that desire to emulate a movie star.
You’ve certainly got it, you’ve created yourself as it were. I wanted to ask you, what does it mean being a woman over 40, when so much value is placed on youth and beauty, what does that mean for women as we age?
Well, I mean, it’s funny when I’m thinking about it, when I first started creating retro style pin-ups and creating my shows in the early 90s, I was 18, 19, and it’s funny that you think that way when you’re younger, that you’re at your best when you’re young, without realising that as time goes on there’s so much to cultivate other than your beauty and your youth. And you start realising that there’s a lot more to being interesting and being remembered and being considered sexy. You can’t put all your eggs in one basket. (Laughs) It’s never what your greatest assets are. I’m 43 and if I try to put my 25 year-old self into this show, it wouldn’t work. I couldn’t have done it. There’s no way I could have done it. I don’t think people would have wanted to see me. But I think a lot of what I do now is about what is sexy, what makes people consider you sexy. I wouldn’t have been able to understand that. I was just at the Crazy Horse in Paris, and I don’t know if you or your readers know about that, but this is a place that’s been open since 1951, the dancers are perfection personified, they’re very young and they’re all the same body shape and they’re absolute perfection and beauty, and yet, I’m going there and they’re asking me how I do what I do. It is something you can’t even explain, I guess there’s something about experience and the thought process and the way that you… I can’t even teach it or explain it. If I thought I could I would.
Maybe it’s becoming more who you are. When you’re young you’re following your idols but you’re also creating who you are but as you get older, you really are that person, which is quite attractive I hope.
Totally. It’s understanding that the things that make you sexy are not just perfection and beauty. It’s vulnerability and strength. It’s your story. It’s the tales you have to tell and whether you’re telling a tale to someone verbally or with the way you move, and the thought process behind every move you make, that’s all real stuff.
Why do we watch some people who act a certain way? You can be doing the same movement and saying the same lines, but what makes somebody have a truth and feeling behind it, I think it’s the same thing with being sexy and performing in any way. It’s just always about doing the perfect moves and being the most beautiful. That is something wonderful to behold, but there’s something to be said for the experience… and I don’t know, (laughs) it’s a hard thing to explain. But basically, I’ve been doing these shows since I was 19 years old and the shows are better now. It’s not because I have more rhinestones.
I think I got more confident as I got older. I like to call it my renaissance. In the last couple of years I started wearing more corsets than ever before.
Once you stop caring… I think men love women who have cultivated their wit and their wisdom and once you have stories to tell, that something you definitely turn but sometimes it can be easy to let other people get the best of you and tell you, oh, you’re older, don’t forget you’re getting older, what are you going to do then? And that’s when you have to brush it off and try to let things like that go away from you or roll off you like water off a duck’s back. It’s the biggest problem, because I’m asked all the time, oh, what are you’re going to do when you don’t look good anymore? (Laughs) And I’m like, oh my god, well, there’s a lot of what-ifs in the world, and there are so many phases of beauty and aren’t we lucky if we get to experience many of them.
I often ask people if they remember their dreams, and if so, is there one which jumps to mind?
I remember some and I have a lot of nightmares about doing my show and not having all the things I need like things falling apart or not having my costume, things like that (laughs) and then I have nightmares about getting sunburned, I’m telling you the silliest ones, I have other reoccurring dreams, but a lot of them are nightmares, but those are the ones that are related to the stuff I’m talking about. They’re funny. Like anxiety dreams…
I guess you don’t have the anxious turning up to work naked dream.
No, I don’t have that one, but I do have the anxious turning up to work and not having my costume and having to do a show in a bikini or something. That would be my nightmare. (Laughs)