Burlesque Queen Dita Von Teese on Feminism, Protégés, and the Future of the Art Form

Burlesque is hotter than ever, especially among a certain type of vintage-loving hipster in South Florida. So you can thank model, actress, designer, and, most important, burlesque star Dita Von Teese for that secondhand glitter barrage you may have experienced at the Monterey Club or Poorhouse.

Von Teese, the form's greatest champion and performer, will be bringing her critically lauded variety show, Burlesque: Strip Strip Hooray!, to town Thursday and Friday. New Times spoke with the ever-charming star before her visit.

On the future of the burlesque movement: 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.

On making an old art form new again: 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 can be fairly true that everything has been done before, but I think there are definitely ways around it, and there're 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 it has to be? ... 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 about, "Why is a burlesque show great to watch, and what are the base elements of a great burlesque show?"...

When I went to the Crazy Horse in Paris a month ago and saw a new act that they just made, there was nothing about it that was retro. And it was incredible; it was mind-blowing! And there was nothing retro about it! Think about using technology in shows. There's a lot to be done! If I weren't already settled in my own style that I developed and I hadn't already invested my whole life into my own brand of burlesque, I can think of lots of things that I would direct.

On those who will follow in her footsteps: People always ask if they can be my protégé and whatnot. The thing is, I still believe in good, old-fashioned showbiz: You can't arrive to greatness unless you did it yourself, because the stakes are high. When the curtain opens on every single one of the performers in my shows, we created those acts ourselves. It's high stakes.

I've done that before: I've put beautiful, talented dancers in my costumes, in my show, on my props, and it falls flat. And it's not because they're not amazing — it's because there are no high stakes to it. It's not their creation; it doesn't come from their heart. It's hard to become legendary if you haven't put your heart and soul into it yourself, is what I'm getting at. So that's the conflicting thing I have about directing and showing people the way; it doesn't usually work out.

On feminism: [Some] people don't know anything about burlesque and point fingers and go, "Oh, she's a stripper; this is objectifying women" and it's like, "Wait, you haven't been to the show, and you probably don't know that 80 percent of the audience is female and the rest is dates of the females that bought tickets or they're gay men and lesbians."

One of the last taboos to be liberated is to revel in being objectified, and I feel like indulging in taboos sometimes is a way to liberate them... What you're watching are my obsessions come alive on stage, my sexual fantasies, and in my sexual fantasies, things are not politically correct.

I'm supergrateful to the women that paved the way and made this burlesque movement even possible, because it was much different for them... A lot of them were looked down upon.

But I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't wandered into a strip club in 1991.

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David Von Bader