It’s a typo for the ages.
A misfire on a keyboard resulted in the creation of the biggest star in burlesque: Dita Von Teese.
The name is great, especially for a striptease artist. But make no mistake, the name “Teese” was intially printed in error. The artist, whose real name is Heather Sweet, had chosen a singular stage name, “Dita,” when booked for a Playboy magazine photo shoot. The publication asked for her surname to run on the cover.
“So I went to the white pages and came across the name ‘Treese,’ and asked them, ‘What about Dita Von Treese’ ” recalls Von Teese, performing Monday night in “Art of the Tease” at House of Blues at Mandalay Bay. “But when the magazine came out, it was ‘Von Teese,’ and I thought, ‘That works.’ It was all a happy accident.”
The 2002 shoot was the breakout moment for Von Teese, who has grown into burlesque’s most famous contemporary figure and bankable star. The onetime fetish and lingerie model (specializing in corsets, with her 22-inch waist) regularly sells out tour stops across the country and internationally.
Von Teese is the culture’s style and fashion trendsetter, inspiring such pop stars as Katy Perry (her winged eyeliner from a few years ago, as an example), and her performance fees can run more than $200,000.
But Von Teese is a phenomenon expressly in the burlesque world. She does not own the high measure of fame as, say, a pop star like Perry or any figure who has starred in a reality show or appeared on a mainstream fashion magazine. As she jokes, “I can still shop in the produce section and not be bothered. I don’t have to have security around me all the time.”
Otherwise, Von Teese says she is not particularly interested in fame.
“In this day and age, there really are a lot of false people who will go after mainstream fame, who will say anything and be scandalous just to get mainstream fame,” she says. “For me, I’ve got to work to get my audience. I need to be real.”
As her industry’s leading spokeswoman, Von Teese remains protective of the “burlesque” title, knowing that the term can be affixed to productions or films that don’t fit the classic description. She also is neverr fully nude onstage, thanks to artfully arranged tassels and other elegant ornamentation.
“Classic striptease is done in a grand and dramatic fashion,” she says. “The acts build in a thoughtful way. It’s not just a woman singing ‘Fever’ and taking her clothes off with no point or thought.”
Von Teese sashayed into the debate about the 2010 film “Burlesque,” co-starring Cher and Christina Aguilera, which she says “had no burlesque in it.”
“They were saying, ‘This isn’t like the stripper burlesque that Dita Von Teese does,’ ” she says, fairly spitting out the words. “Really? Well, this is not burlesque, and when you’re not doing the type of burlesque that Gypsy Rose Lee did (beginning in the 1930s), then don’t bring me into it. You can’t talk (crap) on me when I’m working to preserve real burlesque.”
Von Teese’s striptease history on the Strip includes a pair of appearances at Crazy Horse Paris at MGM Grand in 2007 and again in 2010. Her rendition of “Lazy,” from her Crazy Horse appearances, is to be featured at House of Blues. She’ll be joined by well-known burlesque strip-tease performer Dirty Martini (a regular in Melody Sweets’ solo shows in Las Vegas) and Ginger Lee Valentine (who aptly performs inside a giant red heart). Her emcee, the man she found on YouTube and host of the “Hey Qween” podcast, is Jonny McGovern, aka The Gay Pimp.
“I have a serious crush on Jonny,” Von Teese says. McGovern steps into the role so ably performed by Von Teese’s former host and burlesque favorite Murray Hill.
Von Teese is also performing a new martini-glass number, and features a team of male backing dancers. “They take off my clothes and shoes,” she says. “It’s all very interesting, trust me.”
The show is her latest effort to re-invent herself in a 17-year stage career. Her long-term objective?
“I don’t look ahead too much. My big goals? To do great work, evolve and change. I just want to bring my own brand of burlesque and be as sexy as possible,” Von Teese says. “This is very much something I do out of love, not to be famous. I would never do it for that reason.”