Dita Von Teese, the reigning queen of modern burlesque, has forged her own path from the start. From her fearless moves to her signature style, this elegant stage vet has charmed audiences worldwide with her over-the-top shows. Ahead of her latest tour’s stop in Toronto on Feb. 11, we caught up with the star to chat all things glamour, touring and her stand-out sartorial skills.
What are some of the biggest challenges of being a burlesque performer?
The financial ones. Touring with the show is no small feat; I have big ambitions to create and show people a large-scale production, which isn’t very easy to balance the budget for. I have to sell 95% of tickets just to break even on the production.
What is your most over-the-top prop and do you have any stories about a prop malfunction?
The big mechanical bull I ride during one of the numbers. I had to buy it from cowboys in Texas and then learn to drive it. While I was working with M.A.C cosmetics and the M.A.C AIDS Fund, we replaced the mechanical bull with a giant lipstick tube. The whole time I was thinking what had I gotten myself into and how was I going to do this without getting bucked off by the lipstick?
Where does your energy come from on the days when you’re not feeling it?
Whenever I’m not feeling it, as soon as the curtains open and the spotlights are on me I’m totally feeling it. There’s just something about the spotlight and the audience energy that I’ve always thrived on. I always have the energy because I’m so lucky to do what I do. I feel so fortunate every single day that I get to do something completely unexpected. It’s a very unlikely career to be a burlesque performer in this era.
How do you prep before a show?
I get to the theatre really early, sometimes five hours before the curtain goes up, to feel comfortable in the space, chit-chat with my cast and crew, and create a nice atmosphere in my dressing room. I like to listen to music, and take all the time in the world to put my makeup on, do my hair and get dressed. I always have a glass of champagne and a little tea before a show, just to create the mood. I really don’t like being rushed. I usually spend four hours and just enjoy the process. I can get ready very fast, but do I want to? No.
You’ve talked about the transformative power of glamour; how would you describe what glamour means to you?
Glamour is empowering and it’s where I found my confidence; it’s about artistic expression and being whoever you want to be in life. I’ve called myself a glamour evangelist because I’m always singing the praises of glamour in the hopes that a little bit will rub off on other people.
What are your best tips for those looking to get into burlesque? There’s a lot of ways to capture the spirit of burlesque and use it in your real life instead of just going on stage. Being a burlesque performer is not a huge money-making thing. There are a lot of people who want to be famous and they want to feel the spotlight, but you have to examine what you’re doing it for and why you want to do it.
How do you handle negative comments and haters?
I always say, only mediocrity is safe from ridicule. Anyone who is negatively coming after you is doing it because they want to get to you. There are so many different angles people can come at you so I just shield myself from it. What other people think of me is none of my business; I’m just going to do what I do as best as I can and let any negative activity that comes my way roll off me like water. If I don’t read it, it doesn’t exist.