Dita Von Teese – her rhinestone highness

I think everyone in the burlesque world has an opinion about Dita Von Teese. She is a person towards whom it is difficult to remain indifferent. Some of these opinions are sometimes very critical (sometimes unfairly so), but a lot of people admit that if it was not for Dita (or the “Burlesque” movie), they would never have discovered burlesque or even fetish erotica. They would not discover a community they like, they would not meet people they share interests with, they would not begin their own burlesque careers. Their lifestyle and interests would be drastically different, if not for the woman who introduces everyone into the world of sequins and feathers that we love so much.

Burlesque in mainstream

I think that Dita Von Teese, as perhaps the only burlesque artist who has really broken into the mainstream and introduced the concept of burlesque to mass media, remains a reference point for many of us, even if our style of performance departs from the one performed by her. Kitty Von Purr writes on her blog that she is not a fan of Dita’s performances, because the emphasis in them is on the “strip” or removing pieces of clothing. Personally, for the same reason, I’m very impressed with Dita’s performances – it’s not that she goes out on stage dressed and leaves undressed, but HOW she does it. I am always fascinated by the coquetry of every movement, even the mere frow of her eyebrows is flirtatious and infused with eroticism. Even if there isn’t much story in her acts, I can not take my eyes off her. Nothing happens on stage by accident. Every move is thought out and planned so that everything looks aesthetical and erotic.

Dita Von Teese – entrepreneur

Von Follies - Dita Von Teese
Von Follies by Dita Von Teese

Another thing that I admire in Dita is her consistency in creating her image. She does not have a stage alter ego. She is the same woman on stage and off of it. Every product sold or promoted by her strengthens this image – and over the years there were many of them! Of course, Dita herself is to some extent a product – carefully designed, promoted, presented in a controlled manner. Dita Von Teese has (or has had) cosmetics line, three different perfumes, a line of dresses, cardigans and exclusive gloves, sunglasses, stockings, nail styling sets, perfumed candles, flower vases in the shape of her likeness, and her own successful brand of underwear. She has published two books devoted to burlesque and her style, as well as an album with music written specifically for her performances (“Soundtrack for Seduction”) and an album with completely new music in collaboration with composer Sebastian Tellier. She was also the face of brands such as M.A.C., Cointreau, and Perrier.

Dita Von Teese – producer

Dita Von Teese - Art of the Teese
All pictures © Frank Rodrick, collage by me

I think I like Dita the most for this love of quality in everything she does. Even if you are not a fan of modern American burlesque, where Dita’s style had a huge impact, in my opinion, the show produced by her must make an impression. Her shows “The Art of the Teese”, “Strip-Strip Hooray” and “The Copper Coupe” are professional productions with impressive technical background – Dita transports from place to place not only her famous props (great lipstick or powder compact, a great glass, a Swarovski-encrusted mechanical bull), but also lighting installation – all to ensure the highest quality of the show, regardless of the place (although the venues where the show takes place are impressive!). The cast – because Dita is not the only person appearing on the stage – is always composed of great, interesting, talented artists presenting the entire spectrum of variété. Artists who joined Dita areŁ Dirty Martini, Perle Noire, Catherine D’Lish, Selene Luna, Coco Lectric, Ginger Valentine, Zelia Rose, model Gia Genevieve, Jett Adore, Monsieur Romeo, Duke Lafayette, but also drag queen Violet Chachki or the operatic-cabaret singer Prince Poppycock. The hosts are people like Murray Hill or Jonny McGovern. At the same time, she uses a clever trick to emphasize who is the star of this show (if it was not clear to anyone). The artists appearing in her show often do not perform their own acts but their adaptations of Dita’s old acts – and so Dirty Martini performs on a carousel horse, Ginger Valentine presents her variation of the acrobatic show on a huge heart prop (and in Dita’s old costume), and Gia Genevieve splashes around in a bathtub used by Dita in her Crazy Horse show, in a costume that is Dita’s underwear (of course bedazzled appropriately).

A Burlesque Standard?

Dita Von Teese
Photo by Kevin Tachman

Although Dita as a person is an inspiration for me, I admit that I have a bit of a problem with her impact on the world burlesque scene, which is also considerable. Because she is more or less the face of burlesque in the world of mainstream media, which have no idea about the world of burlesque as a whole, Dita’s extravagant, classic style, dripping with Swarovski crystals, has become a standard when it comes to the “commercial” burlesque shown at corporate events on all continents, in front of the audience that had no previous contact with this type of show. This means that organizers assume, and often even expect, that the artists will use similar elements of the image, props, music in their performances and that they will look similar to Dita.

American Burlesque in Europe

I am strongly opposed to the homogenization of burlesque and I think that the Americanisation of this art, owing to Dita’s popularity, hinders the development of European burlesque, which is embedded in the tradition of cabaret, satire, performance art – perhaps even hinders development in general, because reproduction does not support development.  European burlesque, especially contemporary, neo-burlesque, much more than the American one, is an example of a counter-culture, an art where the main message is to oppose certain norms. However, looking at the headliners, the main stars of European burlesque festivals, as well as the events where burlesque appears as an artistic element, more often there will be representatives of American burlesque, in the style similar to that of Dita Von Teese. This is, of course, more “established”, but with all the admiration for Dita, which I honestly think she deserves, I cannot shake the feeling of disappointment when someone thinks that only this is the true, “real” burlesque, when this art has so much more to offer.

Soon I will write about European burlesque legends, who in my opinion deserve recognition as pioneers of this art on our continent. If you have any suggestions, please write me at blog@lolanoir.com!

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