Dita and the Art of the Tease
by Kara Mae Harris
pin-up in contemporary times isn't always the most tasteful state
of affairs. As most vintage erotica aficionados will concede, the
glamour is gone, the innocence is dried up. But, among the sea of
tanned hardbodies and teased bangs, the crude porn kittens and the
triangle bikinis, there are a few hopefuls who can still woo the
heart of any retro lover. Leading this group of soft, classic beauties
is a force best described in one word: Dita.
© Dita von Teese
the wake of the Bettie Page craze, Dita Von Teese is still going
strong, with an Internet empire, a touring show, and fans who
will go to great lengths to see their glamour queen in action.
Pin-up artist Olivia's renditions of Dita sit well beside the
work of the 1950s masters. Her image has appeared in the pages
of Erotica, Playboy, Barracuda, and Marquis, and yet in that diverse
group, she always manages to stand out with taste and class.
came into her own as a Bettie Page look-alike, but even before
embarking on her pin-up career, she was always enamoured of the
'50s. "I used to have a red flip hair cut, and I used to
dress vintage," recalls Dita. "Then I saw Olivia's paintings
of Bettie, and that kind of sparked an interest, and I thought
'Well, you know what's missing...' Because really, there was nobody
doing it. There was one other girl who was kind of known all over
the place for her tattoos and her Bettie Page hair. And I thought
the thing that was missing was a more elegant Bettie."
it wasn't long before Dita was ready to carve out a unique image
of her own. When she met Olivia in person, the artist told her she
already drew Dita when she drew Bettie, commenting that she looked
just like the pin-up icon. "She kind of laughed it off like
that," Dita says, "and I was kind of like, that sucks.
That was one of the things that made me think, I don't want to be
Bettie anymore. I need to make my own name."
Photo © Dita von Teese
fans liked her pale skin and black hair, so she kept those features
the same, grew out the bangs, and shed her Bettie identity. "I
really felt like I liked the '40s era more than the '50s,"
she notes. "The '50s seemed too easy and I wanted to go for
something that was a little more difficult to get right in photos,
which is the '40s."
in her modeling work and her traveling show, Dita draws inspiration
from historic glamour queens. The most obvious influence is dancer
Sally Rand, from whom Dita takes her fan dancing routines. However,
she feels her act would fit better in a movie musical than a burlesque
you watch real old burlesque, it's not real sexy and pretty. I'm
far more influenced by the old Technicolor musicals, all the song
and dance numbers and all that. My show's a little more glossy
and slick as opposed to some of the girls that are doing the real
deal, which was the old bump and grind, the tassel twirling. It
wasn't pretty. Some of the moves those burlesque girls did were
really rough. There were big stars like Gypsy Rose Lee, and she
was very elegant and her shows were very classy and beautiful.
Unlike the bump 'n' grind girls who were nasty," Dita says
with an affectionate laugh.
a place for the girls showing how it really was done, but there's
not really anyone that's trying to capture what Lili St. Cyr and
Gypsy Rose Lee did," she adds. "My show may not exactly
be authentic as to what it was like being in a burlesque house,
but I think it's much closer to what Lili St. Cyr and Sally Rand
did. It's the same spirit as what they did."
probably no coincidence that the greats of the burlesque institution,
who were considered to be in an elegant class of their own, often
were trained in ballet or classical dance forms. Dita herself is
trained in ballet and says the schooling helped her enormously.
"I take a lot of my ballet moves, and bring them to my show.
Especially my fan dance, I dance on [pointed] toes," she notes.
Photo © Dita von Teese
what should one expect during one of Dita's performances? "My
costumes are really elaborate, first of all," she says. "So
I usually come out and do a striptease in some crazy outfit…I
use vintage music, or I use remakes because sometimes the sound
quality is better. I strip and then I do a fan dance and I have
the biggest feather fans that anybody's ever owned. They're really
huge! I also have a big glass bathtub." Recently, Dita has
started to incorporate voiceover and singing into her stage routines.
"I have a partner that I'm working with and we're working
on a show where we sing live, and where we do more of the heckling
the audience, which is what Gypsy Rose Lee was known for-coming
out and talking to the audience, and cracking jokes as she took
of her clothes. It can be so much fun and I think it's missing
and a lot of people don't know about it. I think it is going to
go in that direction eventually. Everybody's seen it all."
venues in which she performs run the gamut. Says Dita, "There
are times when you come of the stage and you're like, 'Oh my God,
not one person in the audience got this!' But there are way more
times where people come up and say, 'I have never seen anything
like that' and 'Thank you for doing that.' I love that it comes
from women who never thought they could enjoy something in a strip
club. I get so many different kinds of venues. There are really
classy places and really raunchy ones, and both of them are fun
in their own way."
sees the 1950s as the downfall of women's glamour. She speaks
fondly of the time when women could be bothered to wear full-fashioned
nylons and pincurls: "I love wearing hats, gloves, stocking
and high heels, and all of that stopped. I think glamour is coming
back, but still it's not like women put their hat and gloves on
to go to the grocery store. You wouldn't go outside without being
dressed and done [back then]."
even with the loss of glamour in the modern age, Dita admits she
prefers living in this era. "There are a lot of things I like
about now," she says. "I really appreciate that there
were women who made it possible to do what I do easier. I don't
know whether I would want to be a pioneer back then, and get shunned
for not being a starlet. I like that the Web has given a tremendous
opportunity to me. And I also don't know if I would have wanted
to live in that era. People say [I was] born in the wrong era. I
don't feel like I was, because I really like being unique, and I
really wouldn't have been back then. I probably would have been
wearing space age clothes or something."
© Dita von Teese
think it's about finding something that's missing," Dita
says, on the best method to becoming an icon. "A character
that's missing. People will remember you for it. If you look at
who's famous for being a personality, they're pretty colorful,
and there aren't ten others just like them. So that's the basis
I really go by. I thought about what was missing and what I love,
and that's what I try and do."
more about Dita von Teese, visit her Website at http://www.dita.net.