By Margie Palmer
‘Queen of burlesque’ talks her past, her present and her upcoming San Diego show
Burlesque icon Dita Von Teese will be kicking off the West Coast leg of her critically acclaimed “The Art of the Teese” tour on July 5 in San Diego. Gay San Diego recently caught up with Von Teese to learn more about her past, her style and what show-goers can expect from her upcoming NSFW performance.
Von Teese never imagined she’d grow up to be the international “Queen of Burlesque.”
In her childhood years, Von Teese, who was born a natural blond, grew up as the shy and humble Heather Sweet; her father was a machinist and her mother a manicurist.
She grew up in small-town Michigan before her family moved to Irvine, California, when she was 12, but it wasn’t until she turned 18 that she began to embrace what some refer to as her alter-ego.
“I grew up as a little girl who was dreaming about being a 1940s pin-up or a classic Hollywood movie star,” Von Teese said. “I don’t sing, but I had fantasies about being like Betty Grable. A lot of people ask about my alter ego, but the thing is, I realized who I was a long time ago. Today I just go out there — people see me and my childhood interwoven. It’s rooted in true obsession.”
At 15, Von Teese began working at a lingerie store, and that, she said, is when she developed an obsession with the artistry of corsets.
“I was interested in attaining exotic things,” she said. “I started asking around and at some point, in the early 1990s, someone gave me a slip of paper with an address on it. When I went to that address, it was a full-blown fetish store. Everything was black and red and I asked if I could have [a corset] done in pink. That was my first and it’s how I became involved in corsetry.”
That same store, she said, is where she also discovered fully-fashioned seam stockings. The rest, as they say, is history.
“I discovered all these erotic and exotic things,” Von Teese said. “I saw pictures of Betty Page and decided I wanted to become a modern-day Betty Page. That’s what sparked an entire career as a fetish pin-up model.”
Her upcoming show
Von Teese will be performing her burlesque revue, The Art of the Teese, at the San Diego House of Blues on Wednesday, July 5, and Thursday, July 6.
While she said she hasn’t been in San Diego for “at least seven years,” as an Orange County girl who spent a lot of time in southern Orange County and the San Diego area in the past, it means a lot to be able to come back and perform.
San Diegans must feel the same way, since Von Teese’s July 5 show sold out quickly, causing a second show to recently be added on July 6. She will then perform at the Anaheim House of Blues, near her childhood home, on July 8.
“This is the biggest burlesque show in the whole world with the best performers from Chicago, New York, Australia, really all over,” she said. “I’m very proud of the cast I’m bringing on tour. I don’t want to show the one-sided view of my signature burlesque style. The cast is important because they show the other side.”
Von Teese will also be performing a new version of her martini glass act — where she strips inside a giant version of the glass — which will debut in San Diego.
“I try to think of ways to maintain the ideals of the show but to find new things to show people,” she added. “I’ll also be bringing back the rhinestone cowgirl act, which is a fan favorite.”
Despite her worldwide fame, Von Teese remains humbled that she’s been able to make a career out of something she has always enjoyed.
“I never expected this,” she said. “It wasn’t until I was on the cover of Playboy that I realized this could be a real job. I never expected to be famous for my hobby. I never imagined this would take me where it has. I’m still very level-headed and am always believing that this is still my 15 minutes of fame. I enjoy it and do my best at it.”
The Art of the Teese will debut Wednesday, July 5 at 7:30 p.m., at the San Diego House of Blues, located at 1055 10th Ave., in Downtown San Diego, with a second show scheduled to take place at the same time on Thursday, July 6. Tickets start at $99. Attendees must be at least 18 to enter. For more information, to read celebrity reviews of her show, or buy tickets, visit artoftheteese.com.
—Margie M. Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writer who has been racking up bylines in a myriad of news publications for the past 10 years. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.