Burlesque is back in a big way with locals like Charlotte’s own Big Mamma and national touring troupes. You can thank the queen of modern burlesque, Dita Von Teese, for bringing the titillating and glamorous world of striptease to the mainstream.
Von Teese makes her Charlotte debut this weekend with Strip Strip Hooray at The Fillmore. The show features her dragon lady and cowgirl routines, as well as the new “Bird of Paradise” and her famous signature cocktail glass number.
We recently spoke to the former Heather Sweet, who continues to do her own hair and makeup during the shows, about her history, the art form’s popularity and her personal style.
Q. You hit on such fun themes, and there’s so much to choose from. Where do you find inspiration?
A. When I first started, there wasn’t much of a burlesque scene and I was more intent on creating shows based on books I’d read or movies I saw that depicted burlesque in the ’30s and ’40s. I made up in my mind what I thought it was from rare photos or VHS tapes I was able to get my hands on. My career and the way I’ve created shows has changed. I don’t create replicas of shows. I create shows that capture the essence of what burlesque was. I do things that haven’t been done before.
Q. When you started out in strip clubs, was your act different than what the norm was?
A. I walked into a strip club in 1991 with a friend of mine. I was working in the LA electronic music scene as a go-go dancer. There were neon, tan, blonde, beautiful girls doing these typical early ’90s shows that I guess you wouldn’t call shows going on stage for three and a half minutes. ... My hair was bright red at the time and I had a very different look than what was in there. I had the idea that there will be people here looking for something different. I discerned the things that make you different make you valuable. Those years taught me a lot. I might not get $1 from 20 guys. I would get a $20 from one guy.
Q. How has burlesque changed in the last 20 years?
A. I watched a big shift where my audience has grown to be women from all walks of life, lots of gays, misfits, and eccentrics, but also people that would probably never be in a strip club. Women are going to these shows and are gaining inspiration to see a show that represents different kinds of beauty and ethnicities and types of beauty and sizes. That’s what people are getting from burlesque shows. When burlesque was invented it was predominantly for men.
Q. What do you wear when you’re just kicking around?
A. I have my own signature casual look. I (just) went to my Pilates class. I never leave the house without my lipstick in place, my hair in a chignon, and a sweep of face powder. I’ll wear capri pants, a simple T-shirt and ballet flats.
Q. Are you horrified by those photos of people shopping at Wal-Mart in their pajamas?
A. I am, mostly, because there should be ritual and protocol. Presentation of one’s self has to do with manners. ... One should respect oneself. It’s not even the way you present yourself to other people, but your self-respect. For me I don’t spend an hour to get ready to leave the house, but I always make sure I have those seconds to put my hair in the chignon and put red lipstick on.
Courtney’s blog: cltsoundbites.blogspot.com
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