Dita Von Teese Tells All, Takes No Prisoners: Strip, Strip, Hooray! Comes to the Fillmore

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It's not every woman who can wear 10 different hats and not have a hair out of place.

But not everyone is Dita Von Teese -- burlesque beauty extraordinaire -- and thank god, because most of us don't have the constitution for her seemingly endless roster of performances and projects. (And in a corset no less.)

Born and bred in Rochester, Michigan, Dita Von Teese has almost single handedly brought burlesque from the dusty days of yore into the red-hot spotlight. From lingerie shopgirl to stilletto-clad stripper, Dita has wended her way through many facets of performance, including costume and set design, modeling, acting, even a dash of lesbian porn, and has found herself at the top of the heap, heaving breasts and head held high.

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Dita shows off her signature martini glass act in Strip Strip Hooray!
While Dita may appear coquettish, peering out from jet-black bangs or trussed up in leather like a sadist's wet dream, rest assured, beneath the feathers and lace is a strong-willed woman that runs a tight ship.

In addition to writing, producing, and starring in her own burlesque show, Strip Strip Hooray! (which opens today in San Francisco), Dita also designs clothes, lingerie, perfume, and writes books; she'd make any entrepreneur blush with her business savvy.

We caught up with the raven-haired vixen -- who just got back from a pre-show vacay to Barcelona -- to talk about neo-feminism, aging, and, of course, the art of the tease.

SF Weekly: So tell us about the show! How do you decide upon the performers and the acts? Do you all travel together like a glittering troupe of beautiful misfits?

I've been performing since 1991 and personally I've seen a big evolution. The burlesque scene has seen a huge evolution as well. I started out doing private parties in Paris and London, the Cannes Fim Festival... events that fans couldn't get tickets to. So a few years ago, I thought to myself, 'I'll do all my big production numbers all in one show.'

I'm really proud of the cast. I go after the best performers in the world and cherry pick the best of the industry. We do have to have a rotating cast because we have the people that get booked the most in the world. There are thousands of burlesque performers -- lots of acts and lots of pretty girls -- but it's hard to find our level of production. We need show-stopping stuff.

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Dita channels the retro glamour of a pin-up girl, snatching styles from a slew of eras.

There's been quite an evolution of your own career, you've taken on a slew of projects... but most of them are about being beautiful. As a woman whose livelihood is so dependent on your sex appeal, do you fear aging? How do you combat that? I've noticed all these new wrinkles all around my knees and I keep having depressing flashes of my sagging ravaged body in a too-small bikini around age 92.

I'm 40. It's confusing. Of course I can pick myself apart and say all sorts of evil things about myself which I would never say about anyone else. For me, I don't think too much about it. My role models, like Mae West, -- who made her first film at age 40! -- she was the huge sex icon. But she was very smart and had a lot more going for her than her looks.

While honing and refining our beauty, we have to transcend our age in regards to being a sex symbol. We have to hone our wits and intelligence. Because you don't have anything if you just have your beauty. I've had conversations with former supermodels that are really down on themselves and wonder why no on cares about them. It's because they've never paved the way for something else to do. They have to think beyond their beauty.

[My other businesses] help lay a groundwork for the rest of my life. I'm not stupid. I'm not planning on doing shows for the next 20 years. You can't do what I do and be a little cupcake. I'm capitalizing on what I've built.

Oh god. Lumpy sad old supermodels. That is really a tragic vision. I guess that answers my question about whether you consider yourself a feminist?

Ugh, I get accused of being anti-feminist all the time. Too bad the audience and ticket holders -- 80 percent or more are women, and the other 10 percent are gay men. The numbers don't add up, so go back to the drawing board. You'd be better off saying I'm old and ugly.

So If you weren't a burlesque dancer -- or ballerina, I know you studied dance pretty seriously as a child -- if there were sliding doors somehow like that bad Gwyneth Paltrow movie...what do you think you'd be?

I probably would have been a stylist. I have good taste.

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Dita in her gilded cage
Is it ever exhausting maintaining your 'look'? I've never seen a picture of you in like a pony tail and sweatpants shopping for Beeferoni at Safeway...ya know?

I definitely have a casual look -- but it's all relative to what I do. For example, I'll go and do pilates later today and I'll wear capri pants and a tight t-shirt. I don't have an alter ego. I've got a lot to do! I'm not trotting around the house in high heels in bon bons.

If a girl or woman ever wanted to try and follow in you shoes, what advice would you give her?

It depends. It comes with different things. I once read this beautiful letter from this girl. She said she used to wear baggy clothes and sweatsuits and was bullied and hated her body. But she got inspired and dresses herself differently now. But the point is, she said she doesn't care what people say about her anymore.

It's about people taking a message from it, and relating it to their own personal life, not 'I have to do a rope bondage video.' It's better when they don't take it literally...or tell me, "I want to be a burlesque dancer, but I'm terrified of showing my body and terrified being on stage." Just because you like to go to the movies doesn't mean you should be an actress.

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Dita goes West as a naughty cowgirl
You obviously have an incredible amount of confidence on stage...is that something that translates to your personal life? Did you perform as a child?

I was really shy as a child, but I was a ballet dancer. I didn't have stage fright -- but I wasn't that good a dancer so I was insecure about that! [With burlesque], I got the elements of being a big ballet star -- fancy costumes, glamorous lighting, heavy makeup -- but found it in a different way! I know some of the best ballerinas in the world...and they're not living the dream. I am. I didn't get what I asked of the universe... but maybe I got something better.

What's you're favorite act in the show? And what's next on your horizons? Is there something you've always wanted to do, but never have? Like get shot naked from a canon?

All my fantasy comes to life on stage. [The show] has things I've wanted to do my whole life. Between the music and costumes and lighting and props an act can cost upwards to $80,000 for that seven-minute moment. The show costs over a million dollars to produce. I'm already not making any money! So I have to be sure I want to do that act!

I've thought about having a museum exhibit -- where people are walking into the show -- I have two pairs of Bettie Pages' shoes and Gypsie Rose Lee's costume. Natalie Wood's costumes. Sally Rand's things. But... I'm not Madonna, I'm not playing a stadium, I'm not selling tickets for $150 each. The biggest obstacle with this tour is doing the mathematics.

But it's still worth it right? You're living the tasseled dream, trouncing the haters beneath a marabou-feathered heel....right?

People will always find things to say, ya know, 'I found that cowboy act offensive' or whatever. But my sexual fantasies (and yours) should be exempt from political correctness or being analyzed.

After the show I'm covered in bruises and scratches, glitter everywhere, lipstick smeared and I think to myself, 'Did even make 50 dollars?' I used to make more at the strip bar!" But I love it, it's worth it.

Wanna check out the scintillating spectacle complete with glittering geishas, Swarovski crystal bathtubs and of course, an oversized martini glass?

We thought so. Get your engines going with the official teaser....

Strip, Strip, Hooray! at the Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., San Francisco. (415) 346-6000. Show runs from Wed. June 26 - Sat. June 29 at 7:30 PM. Buy Tickets, $35.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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2 comments
Nia Nguyễn
Nia Nguyễn

The contrast in soft, ivory skin and stiff, ebony leather is quite striking. And it makes all the more finer and sultry by Dita herself.

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