Dita Von Teese is so many things. Designer, entrepreneur, performer, dancer. She wears many hats, having a hand in every aspect of her live performances, as well as her work offstage. We were well aware of her intense work ethic and masterful empire well before we heard of her upcoming traveling show, “The Art of the Teese“, but never moreso than when we spoke with her about what’s about to unfold in 2017.
Soft spoken and incredibly well-mannered, Dita joined us to chat on the phone in mid-December, just before the holidays picked back up to round out 2016. We talked a lot about music, but found out more about her incredible talent in that short window of time than we could have gathered by a simple Google search. This woman is truly a force, and we can’t wait to see what happens for her in the coming months.
How are you doing?
I’m good. I’m working on the tour, getting everything together. It’s hard, because I’m always thinking, “What if its not good enough?” There’s always a conundrum between giving the things you know work and trying new things. Finding ways to strike the balance between both.
I just want to go back a ways to get a little bit of a base for our readers. What made you choose to pursue all things burlesque and glamour as a career?
It started as a hobby for sure. I was just out of high school and trying to find my way. I started finding power in creating glamour and transforming myself into a 40’s style Hollywood icon. The kind of women I admired. I had the freedom to do that. I met people and got involved in the Los Angeles underground scene. Hanging around a lot of club kids and drag queens in 1990. I had this inspiration to be more flamboyant and found a lot of confidence from that.
I was pretty shy. Surrounding myself with this illustrious group of artists that were so different than Orange County people I grew up with was such a big deal. I was working in a lingerie store and working in beauty in a department store and in the Los Angeles underground scene doing performance art. I was doing all these things at once and I walked into a strip club already styling myself in vintage style… I didn’t seen anyone who was doing what I was doing. So I thought, “Why don’t I incorporate the pinup stuff I am doing into the strip club?” It wasn’t any different than doing what I was doing go go dancing.
It was 15 years of that, one thing led to another. It wasn’t really until 2001 that I felt like it was a career where I quit everything else and realized these shows could go somewhere. I always – and even now – have Plan B’s. Writing books, designing lingerie, all these things are a part of the Plan B. You never want to be dependent on one thing. What if it falls apart? What if no one cares?
But it’s got to be so much work!
If you’re doing what you love, it’s not a struggle. I don’t remember it being a struggle. I love it so much. I just always thought it was fun. I remember traveling to Wisconsin, working in a dive bar and doing my burlesque show. I would just take my money and spend it on more Swarovski crystals and feathers and stuff. Some people get so caught up in wanting to be famous, and they’re not really thinking about what they really want. People I know who are world class at what they do, do it because they can’t not. It’s their passion.
How do you think music effects shows like this? Do you use it as a driving force, or is it more of an afterthought?
I have done this both ways before. For instance there was a piece of music I was in love with and I had charts drawn up and things orchestrated and it was about 10 minutes long. I always hire all real musicians to play the instruments and I made this piece of music and it sat there for maybe two years.
I’ve made the show before and the music comes later because I’m not sure what it should look like, or I have performer’s block because I’m not sure what it should sound like. It’s always one of my biggest expenses.
I started doing this by buying the same strip tease CDs everyone else was buying. I tried to find obscure music and transfer stuff from vinyl in the 90s and all that. I kept fantasizing about what I could do, and how I could do it differently.
I love taking modern songs and transforming them into burlesque strip tease songs. It’s super expensive, but it is something so exciting and the music really adds to the show. It’s definitely not canned music because I made it, but it seems like it sometimes.
Traveling with an approved cast and crew of fifteen is expensive. I want people to be able to spend $35 to see the show, which is why I pre-record all of the original music instead of traveling with a full band. It’s still unique and it still has its own vibe, but it’s much more practical.
How do you get started with a tour as massive as your upcoming “The Art of the Teese”?
I hired a fantastic tour manager this year. She toured with Gaga and she was my ex husband’s tour manager back in the day. Once I hired her, everything was amazing. For a long time, I was having friends and people I knew do it and giving them a chance. But it’s so hard! And once I hired her, she whipped things into shape and that’s how we took the show to Australia and did so much more than what we did before.
What about music for this show? What’s it like?
There is one act that I created for the Crazy Horse when I was there about 7 years ago. It’s a big, technicolor music-type dance number with the Crazy Horse girls. Im taking that act and I changed sets and costumes, re-recorded music because of my current male backup dancers verses the former female group. I just took it and changed the mood of the act. It’s a new look and an amazing piece of music, but it’s never been seen outside Crazy Horse in paris. So I’m giving this a new life for the United States.
There is another piece of music that I told you about… the one I set aside for two years because I was afraid of it. But I’m using it in this show. It’s a crazy, powerful piece of striptease music that,s a combo of three rare songs I love and I got intimidated by the choreography to go with it. I made it and I was scared of what I made. But I finally tackled it with a really great choreographer. We fit it together so I have my parts and they have theirs so it’s not just me trying to keep up!
Do you listen to music to get yourself pumped up for a performance?
My philosophy is that I’ve been rehearsing for so many weeks beforehand, and I know I’m ready. If you’re ready, you are good. I worked with a really great acting coach and she says, “If you’ve done the work, you’ve got to let it be.”
We have a playlist that we collaborate on with everyone and it has a lot of pump up music. It’s a lot of rap and hip hop. It’s about fifteen minutes and it usually starts with one song and everyone comes from the outer edges of the theater to warm up together on stage. We do warm ups on ballet bar that have nothing to do with ballet. It’s a warm up moment for the cast and even the crew.
In my dressing room I listen to music that I love that isn’t on brand or in character. Something where I can just let [all my emotions] go and have faith that everything’s going to be fine, both on-stage and off.
Is there one song that you love right now?
I’m super into the new Blood Orange record. I have that on repeat. Kind of my go-to for what puts me in a good mood and I get a fire under my ass to go clean the house or whatever. I probably drive people crazy with my choices on repeat. My guilty pleasure is Beyonce. I saw her show recently and I was astonished. I haven’t seen anything like that since I saw Michael Jackson on stage.
I love going to shows. I always encourage people to go. Get out. Go by yourself. I do it. It’s fun!
Do you have any fun anecdotes from creating “The Art of the Teese”?
Anything in this business never seems fun until after the problems are solved. (laughs) Right now I’m just ready for it all. The fun stuff starts happening when the costumes arrive and things like that. When we start choreography and rehearsals for new numbers. Right now I’m in this annoying, planning phase that’s not so glamourous. One of the reasons I decided not to take time off over the holidays is so I can work on this. I’ll have a Christmas Eve party at my house and host a New Years event, but it’s pretty low key this year.
Any advice for aspiring young women?
I guess it’s just finding the balance. Being informed, seeing what’s going on in the world. Definitely keeping perspective on your own life and what you need to do to make it pleasurable and enjoyable.
Keep up with the tour and get your tickets now at artoftheteese.com.