Viva la Dita!
In the never-ending consumer orgy, the word tease has taken on the hackneyed association with -- yawn -- girls going wild. The concept of glamour has been replaced with the hunger for quick cash. Leaving a little something to the imagination is just too time-consuming. America has women to exploit, dammit! So from the ashes of the glossy pin-ups of the '40s and '50s comes Dita Von Teese. As one of the leaders of the neoburlesque revival, she's ready to enlighten us on the real art of tease.
You may have noticed that her porcelain skin, perfectly coifed hair, and hourglass figure bear an uncanny resemblance to another raven-haired beauty. But Dita isn't trying to cash in by simply emulating Bettie Page (to whom she's been endlessly compared). She grew up idolizing Technicolor film stars like Betty Grable, and she was enamored with Sally Rand's fan dancing routine. "I became obsessed with those movie stars," Von Teese recalls. "I really wanted to be a Ziegfeld Girl! What really fascinated me were the backstage scenes in the movies, where women were dressing and undressing, tightening corsets, putting on elaborate headdresses. It was just so glamorous."
Dita also remembers an adolescent rite of passage as being somewhat of a letdown for her classy, prepubescent tastes. "There comes a time in every girl's life when her Mom hands her a bra," she snickers. "Well, I got a crumpled-up pair of tan Leggs pantyhose! So I went out and bought myself a garter belt and matching stockings. I was 13."
The current revival of interest in burlesque has centered much on Von Teese's white-hot performances. Her lavish stage shows include elegant hand-jeweled gowns and a sultry rendition of Rand's fan dance. "Burlesque in the '40s wasn't exactly wholesome," she says. "Those bumping and grinding moves had an overtly sexual nature. I mean, Sally Rand performed completely nude, but it wasn't the focus. Back then, women were proud to be called strippers. I'm just taking the art of exotic dance and giving it a modern twist. Making it more elegant."
This time around, South Floridians will get to see her signature "Martini Glass" act. "I got the idea from the classic girl in the champagne glass and decided to update it. I perform in a giant martini glass with a sponge olive--" She stops for a second and laughs as if coming to the sudden realization that she's getting paid to splash around in a martini glass. "Well," she sighs, "I'm sure you can imagine how fun that is!" Dita's costumes range from a PG bikini to the traditional uniform of pasties and a G-string. She's not just copying burlesque; she lives it. "My entire wardrobe is vintage -- that's how I dress every day. And I don't really listen to modern music. I tend to listen to showtunes and movie soundtracks from the '40s and '50s. Basically, anything a gay man would like, I like."
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