I'm not sure I have ever read or seen an interview of Dita von Teese before this one. It is like she has always been there and in her outfits and makeup and I never really knew what made her tick. I know I had never read her thoughts on stripping and exploitation and degradation of women. It is a pretty fascinating read. Thanks to Christina for sending it over to me. I'm only printing the first half. To read the rest, go over to rumpus.com who conducted the interview.
The Rumpus: How do you rehearse? How much of what we see onstage is improvised?
Dita von Teese: It depends on the act. Some are very precise and more tightly choreographed than others. Others are not so much apart from hitting certain marks and parts of the song, because the sizes of my stage vary so much that I have to be ready for anything, to work with a new space. Plus with the complexity of most the costumes and the way they come off, there’s got to be a little leeway in the choreography.
Rumpus: One thing people often remark on regarding your work, and the “vintage” burlesque it harkens back to, is that it is so elegant, playful, and even innocent compared to many of today’s forms of titillating dance performance and stripping. Why do you think “adult entertainment” has diverged from the ladylike to this much more overt (perhaps even humorless and literal) and pornified manifestation? Or is it a mistake to even analogize today’s adult entertainment with burlesque?
von Teese: It’s all relative. To relate adult entertainment to burlesque, because that’s what it originally was in the 1930s—titillating entertainment for adults. I don’t romanticize the past much when it comes to this subject, because one could buy hardcore porn, heavy bondage and fetishistic erotica from the time the camera was invented. It’s always been there, and some people have always wanted it; it’s just that nowadays it’s easier to find it. People are people and have always had these urges and fascinations with sexuality and even extreme sex, so I think it would be a mistake to say things are so different now. It’s only different because we are freer to be how we want to be publicly. We also have more access to erotica due to the way technology has changed.
Rumpus: There are ways of moving and posing that many erotic dancers engage in that are hard to imagine you doing. What defines a move—or a pose or gesture—that you won’t do?
von Teese: I respect strippers of all forms, because I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t wandered into a strip club and wanted to know more about striptease history. I got my start in strip clubs, and I’ve always been able to admire what makes a dancer an individual, whether it’s really raunchy or tame, and at this point I guess I just have my own set of rules for myself and what I think works for me and what doesn’t. It’s not really easy to describe it in a way that is about a specific move or gesture. One thing I would never do is that thing some dancers do when they hold their hand to their ear to get applause from an audience. That’s just about the least chic thing I have ever seen a performer do! In my opinion, elegance has nothing to do with “how much” is shown and far more to do with the way one presents herself. I’ve seen beautiful, highly erotic nearly pornographic shows that are more elegant than some burlesque acts. You can’t equate the degree of nudity or suggestion, it’s all about the overall way it’s done.