‘We knew about the casting couch’: Dita Von Teese and empowering women

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Nathanael Cooper

Dita Von Teese is used to accusations that she perpetuates the objectification of women.

The Queen of Burlesque, however, has a strong message for those who suggest she does anything other than empower women.

“Usually, whenever people have said what I do is degrading to women they haven’t seen my show,” she says. “As soon as people come to see the show and see the audience is very diverse – my fans are at least 85 per cent women – that turns that argument upside down.

“You can’t say it is degrading to women; you can’t tell someone what is meant to make them feel confident and empowered or what is meant to make them feel demeaned.

“It’s a personal choice and everyone has different boundaries.”While acknowledging burlesque isn’t for everyone, Von Teese feels it can empower both performer and audience.

“The relationship people have with their sensualities and their bodies is personal,” she says.

“Burlesque should maintain a level of risque nature and I would never claim it is for everyone but there are people who get something out of it that makes them feel good.

“Some people will leave a burlesque class or a show feeling exhilarated and excited. Other people might feel mortified, but that is personal to them.”

In the current climate of #metoo and #timesup and with the gaze being firmly directed at the way women are treated, Von Teese says it is a timely and urgent conversation.

“I am glad the conversation is happening and people are talking about it now. I know about the casting couch, I am good friends with people whose family founded the movie industry and we have always  joked about what you have to do to get where you want to go, especially in movies.

“I was always glad I was never in movies, I was glad I was in my own world, setting my own rules.”

Von Teese began her career working in strip clubs before her particular brand of seduction started getting noticed by a more mainstream audience.

However, she acknowledges that as times have changed, so have her shows. She is now passionate about making them as diverse as possible.

“I’m not interested in a fluffy burlesque show of pretty girls, I don’t want a girly show,” she said.

Her upcoming Australian tour, The Art Of The Teese, will include the philosophy she has developed of having a diverse cast performing alongside her.

“Burlesque is not about what your body is like and what your age is or the size of your nose,” she says.

“I want people to walk away from my show having their mind blown so I always look for acts that can inspire other people.

“When I was younger I didn’t really understand that but, as I have evolved myself, I want to see entertainers I can aspire to and who inspire me as well.”

Previous shows have men and women as well as gender-fluid performers and a smorgasbord of characters who don’t necessarily fit the burlesque “mould”.

“I love the variety show format,” she says. “I have never tried to create a storyline for it, I just want to put my very best acts on stage and hire the performers I love the most that represent the different acts of burlesque.

“I want to see diversity in beauty and ethnicity and age and gender ideals and hopefully offer something that can feel inspiring to people.”

Von Teese will bring her Art Of The Teese show to Australia in February and March. artoftheteese.com

 

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