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Queen of Burlesque: Dita Von Teese Talks Las Vegas Residency

Dita Von Teese is a living, breathing time capsule of early to mid-twentieth century glamour and grace entwined with innocent sexuality, making for a rare commodity in our modern times which author Bernadette Barton has dubbed “the pornification of America” in her 2021 book. Von Teese’s performative decadence harkens back to the art of the striptease, which she masterfully puts on display in her Las Vegas residency at the legendary Jubilee Theatre at Horshoe Las Vegas with her show titled, Dita Las Vegas: A Jubilant Revue.



At fifty-one, Dita is breathtakingly timeless, and her performances are more extravagant than ever. The burlesque icon sat down with me to discuss her legendary career, and how this long overdue Las Vegas show finally came together.


Allison Kugel: As the ultimate showgirl of our time, you were made for Las Vegas. What took you so long to do a Las Vegas residency?


Dita Von Teese: What took so long was that I kept getting offers to be in a little room on a little stage, like a lounge type of thing, but people didn’t see the show. Earlier this year I was doing a world tour and I was at the Chicago theatre which is a beautiful, historic theatre. I did a sold out show at the Chicago theatre and Live Nation and Caesars Entertainment came to see the show. They finally went, “Oh, wow, this is a really big show and it needs to be on a big stage.”

Allison Kugel: For those who don’t know, can you explain he history of Burlesque and how it came to be?


Dita Von Teese: Natalie Wood in Gypsy was probably the first time I ever saw Burlesque on screen, and one of the first places you could see an authentic representation of Burlesque. And Gypsy was the biggest star of Burlesque at the time. Burlesque was a kind of show that people went to see in the 1930s and 1940s. It was kind of like a spin-off of Vaudeville, but more risqué, and the stars of the Burlesque show were striptease artists. It was kind of, a little bit by accident. A performer supposedly started doing her quick change before she left the stage and people went crazy, and so they were like, ‘You need to do that again.’ So this deliberate striptease to music started in the 1930s and there were lots of great stars like Lili St. Cyr and, of course, Gypsy Rose Lee. There was a lot of really raucous comedy too; a lot of sexually tinged comedy in Burlesque, as well. That’s what, kind of, differentiated it from Vaudeville.


Allison Kugel: Your name “Dita Von Teese” evokes your artform and image so well, but you were born Heather Sweet. How did you come up with your stage name?


Dita Von Teese: I literally picked out the name when I was flipping through the phone book, back when there used to be a phone book. I don’t know how people do it now. Maybe now they have burlesque name generators (laughs). I picked out the name Dita Von Treese, with an “R” in in. Playboy then printed it as “Dita Von Teese.” I called Playboy up and said, ‘You guys got my name wrong. It was Von Treese,’ and they were like, “Yeah, yeah, we’ll get it right in the next issue.” And then they never did, and I was like, whatever, I guess I’m Dita Von Teese. I didn’t even think about the strip tease association. That was completely an accident.



Allison Kugel: I would imagine that men might be intimidated by your over-the-top image. How do you handle dating and relationships?


Dita Von Teese: I remember sometimes dating people and they just really didn’t get what I do, but it didn’t go far enough for it to matter. It’s not for everyone, just like there are certain men I don’t want to date because of what they do, either. When I think about it, there’s a whole laundry list of jobs men can have where I wouldn’t want to date them (laughs). Like, I don’t want to date a politician. I look for someone who has a strong sense of self. They know who they are, and they know what they want to do. They don’t have to have status and success, and all of these things, but you have to have a quiet confidence and just be a good person. At this stage of my life, I don’t need any of the drama. I don’t want to be in the news for any of my relationships. I know that’s a great way to fuel publicity and sell tickets, but I’ve never had the wherewithal for it.


Allison Kugel: You recently collaborated with Taylor Swift, doing your famous Martini Glass routine alongside her for the Bejeweled music video. Tell me about that experience.


Dita Von Teese: With the Taylor Swift Bejeweled music video, that started with a phone call and me teaching her my martini glass [routine] and us doing it side by side in her video. My best [celebrity] experience was Taylor. She is really a kind girl, she knew everything about what I do, and she wanted to not just have me be behind-the scenes-teaching her to be in my glass. She wanted to showcase what I do. Connecting with a younger generation who are Taylor Swift fans, it was pretty fun and interesting.


Allison Kugel: Any not so great celebrity collaboration?


Dita Von Teese: There was a talk show with Bethenny Frankel (Bethenny, 2012 – 2014). I was asked to go on her show and teach her how to do my glass routine, and guess what? She didn’t show up for rehearsal! They were like, “You have to come to rehearsal and teach her how to do this routine,” and then she never showed up. And I was like, “Why am I at rehearsal? I don’t need to rehearse. I can do this blindfolded with one hand tied behind my back.” Then we did it live on camera, and I was like (to Bethenny), “You’re on your own.”



Allison Kugel: Let’s talk about this outrageous wardrobe you have for this show.


Dita Von Teese: This show (Dita Las Vegas: a Jubilant Revue) is unparalleled even for Las Vegas. When I went into this epic theatre where they had the great Showgirl Jubilee in the late ‘70s, I asked them what happened to all the costumes from Jubilee In the seventies, when they did this big showgirl review and the costume budget alone was $3.5 Million. I asked if I could use those costumes in my show and they said yes. I’m using a combination of all these vintage Bob Mackie in addition to new costumes.


All of my footwear is Christian Louboutin. We are good friends and we created all this fantasy footwear for my show that sometimes winds up in his line. Jenny Packham is another designer; she dresses the royals a lot. She’s made several looks for my show. Everything is custom made. These aren’t things you can buy off the rack. And then I have a copious amount of Swarovski crystals and massive amounts of vintage feathers. There is an incredible amount of bling in this show that you have never seen before. That’s guaranteed. And if you are counting the existing vintage Bob Mackie showgirl costumes from the archives with everything else, [the wardrobe] is literally, like, $12 Million.


Allison Kugel: You never really ventured into acting or singing like many celebrities attempt to do. You’ve stayed pretty tried and true to Burlesque.


Dita Von Teese: I was never like, “I’m going to be a movie star.” I remember, at one point, I had a new manager and she was like, “Okay, now we’ve got to get you in films. We’ve got to get you to be an actress,” and I was like, “I don’t want to be an actress. I want to be the world’s greatest Burlesque star. That’s all I want.” I didn’t do [Burlesque] to get somewhere else. I did this because I believed in it.


Allison Kugel: What can people expect when they come to see Dita Las Vegas: A Jubilant Revue?


Dita Von Teese: It’s the ultimate Vegas revue. There’s no other show like this in Vegas. There is no other level of extravagance. This is where you will see the quintessential showgirl, but you will also see show guys. We’ve got all of the dramatics and the feathers and the rhinestones, but there are an equal number of men performing in the show as women.


Tickets for Dita Las Vegas: A Jubilant Revue are available at ticketmaster.com/ditavegas.


About Journalist and Podcast Host Allison Kugel


Interview and words by Allison Kugel. Allison is a veteran entertainment journalist and host of the Allison Interviews podcast. Watch and embed the entire interview video with Dita Von Teese @YouTube. Listen to the audio podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify. Follow Allison Kugel on Instagram @theallisonkugel and at AllisonInterviews.com.

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