Weekly Burlesque: Dita Von Teese Interview Part 2

Dita proves that for a burlesque performer, it’s what’s underneath that counts — like $5 million worth of diamonds. And best of all, she didn’t have to pay for them. However, as she said in the first part of this interview, she had her days of schlep while building her business.

Has your website been a relevant part of developing your career? Was it originally a lot of work and expense to create the site?

I started the site in the very early ’90s. My boyfriend was really into this new thing called the “World Wide Web,” and he had this idea that we would make a page and it would have pictures on it, and if someone sent us a check for like $10 or something, we would send them back a package of 3×5 prints of me in lingerie.

Gradually, as the Web evolved, so did this little site. At the time, there were no fetish or pinup websites; in fact, there were about 20 of us nude glamour models with little websites.

I regret that I didn’t do like Danni Ash and make a big, giant, thousands-of-girls website. She became a multi-millionaire by studying how to build a site on her own. She paid girls to appear, and she pulled in about $5 million a year in profit. Amazing. And she was basically a stripper that bought a book and studied it and was brave enough to go for it!

My website now is more of a labour of love for me, and a source of income for those that work on it. The profit that I make from it is significant Web-wise, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to my other jobs.

I keep it going because it’s important to me to have this connection to my fans. I don’t have time to shoot special things for it like I used to, but I take scrapbook pictures from my travels, I write in a journal, I e-mail with members, I am always available on the message board to answer questions, and I’m around now and then for chats. I put all the video and pictures of my shows and photoshoots up there.

You are always so kind and generous with the members on your website — you seem very loyal to them. Would you like to comment on what it’s like to have such lovely and devoted fans?

Well, I never thought that I would have so many female fans! I saw this big swing around, and suddenly I realized one day how many women were getting into the spirit of pinup and burlesque, and that there was some kind of comaraderie amongst us girls that couldn’t or didn’t want to fit into that typical supermodel, beach bade, natural kind of sexy.

It really hit me once when I was doing a book signing at Harrod’s a few years ago, and I stepped out to see thousands of people and an army of glamour girls with their red lips on!

And I was fighting back the tears…seeing that I had those kinds of fans, and that they felt sexy and glamorous and were finding the same kind of empowerment I did when I made myself up.

It’s amazing to me. It gave me a whole new outlook on what I do, and made me feel like I could do more to get across a good message about individuality. When I started working with The MAC Aids Fund and then Amfar, it really made me feel like I could turn this silly hobby into something that could make a little difference.

I made $150,000 for Amfar’s HIV research by doing a couple striptease lessons, and that felt terrific to be able to do something. Okay, so maybe I am not a genius and I can’t get in there and cure HIV, but at least I can help in my own way, even if it’s in a ridiculous way.

What did you think of feature dancing? Did it help you learn to develop numbers? I remember that you were listed on Continental’s website as a “novelty act” — do you think that’s a signifier as to how different your style was from that of most features on the circuit at that time?

I think that it’s not for everyone. It’s a hard life, and it’s not glamorous. But yes, it did help me develop a grander show, and I did have fun seeing the country, and I am glad that I did it.

But there were some really tough moments, and it was sort of depressing, especially if you think that all the clubs are big, beautiful places and that there are limousines and fancy stages. There certainly were some, but just when I would start enjoying and settling into these upscale clubs, there I would be, in the next city, in some hell-hole of a club, in the tiniest dressing room ever, in a gross motel.

I would trek out to the department store and buy my own sheets, towels, and bathmats to make a path to walk on the dirty stained carpets. But I had this “that’s showbiz!” attitude that kept me going, and I knew that this was somehow going to be “character building!”

And I do have to say, sometimes I miss hitting that strip-club stage where there isn’t a journalist, a camera crew, paparazzi, or even a camera phone in sight! It’s so freeing to let loose and do a good show without worrying about all that other stuff. I just love being on stages now where there are no cameras.

The Crazy Horse Paris is great. It’s a real theatre, and no one would dare pull out a camera phone. They have someone at every single show watching the audience. I hate that people can’t just sit and enjoy the show anymore; everyone has to document everything they see.

When I see a show, I want to drink in every second of it and remember it as it really was. Cameras can’t capture that feeling you get when you see a great show. [I understand that! Sometimes I feel a little off when I’m performing and I can’t see the audience for the cameras. But I’m super grateful for pictures of shows that I wouldn’t get to see at all otherwise. And, of course, I love to take pictures. – Jo]

What makes up the largest part of your workday?

I don’t really have a typical workday. It all depends on what I have going on at the time. Sometimes I get to work on shows, like making new ones, or rehearsing, and sometimes I am in full-press mode, doing days and days in a row of interviews. They work you like a machine.

I did a few 17-hour-long days recently for all the press for Wonderbra, and there comes a point where no amount of flowers, champagne, free shoes and clothes, and fabulousness that comes your way can help! Sleep is all you want!

I know it seems impossible, but believe me, it’s like my eyeballs are going to fall out and I can’t even talkĀ  or answer one more question about how I got my start or what burlesque actually is. But one good night of sleep and I am ready to go, go, go again! It’s not a complaint; it’s just that you can’t imagine how crazy it can get, and I can see why some celebrities snap.

I haven’t snapped yet, thank goodness. I would say that when I’m not performing or doing appearances and press for my projects, I’m at home, answering e-mails, talking with my manager about what’s going on, taking meetings for possible projects, and doing pilates and taking ballet classes, reading books, or watching films that inspire me, and just doing the day-to-day stuff.

I love just being home, wearing no makeup, washing the dishes, doing the laundry and hanging out with my animals. They never ask me what burlesque is and how I define it!

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