Dita Von Teese - American icon, burlesque dancer, model, actress, author and businesswoman

Dita Von Teese - American icon, burlesque dancer, model, actress, author and businesswoman

Dita Von Teese, real name Heather Renee Sweet, is an American icon, burlesque dancer, model, actress, author and businesswoman. She is known as the "Queen of Burlesque", as many credit her with the re-popularization of burlesque entertainment.


Born in West Branch, Michigan, to a machinist father and a nail technician mother, she is the second of three daughters. Although she was born in the United States, she has English, Scottish, Armenian (through her grandmother) and German origins.

From an early age, her mother passed on to her her fascination for old Hollywood films from the Golden Age. She developed a love for the actresses of the time, especially Betty Grable, and for classic vintage style, encouraged by her mother who bought clothes for her to dress up in. When describing her hometown, she talks about "a universe away from the colored Klieg lights of Hollywood and Paris. But on weekend afternoons, my mom and I had a front seat on a rocket ship to those faraway worlds by way of the old movies starring the most glamorous creatures – Betty Grable, Mae West, Carmen Miranda, Marlene Dietrich... They were our muses."


As a child, she trained as a ballet dancer. At the age of 13, she was already dancing solo for a local ballet company. She would later incorporate these elements into her burlesque shows, where she frequently puts herself in pointe.

When she was a teenager, her family moved to California, for her father's work, where she attended University High School in Irvine. It was during this time that she developed a passion for lingerie, when her mother took her to buy her very first bra, a passion that was also fueled by her father's Playboy magazines. At 15, she worked as a salesperson, then as a buyer, in a lingerie store. At the university, she studied historical costumes and aspired to work as a stylist for the cinema. She later trained as a costume designer and often created her own photoshoots, for which she holds the copyright.


At 18, she got her famous mole tattooed on her left cheek. In her first book, she states that she first went to a strip club at the age of 19 and was soon hired there, alongside her job at a beauty counter. She says she was stunned by the lack of originality of the other strippers and wanted to incorporate vintage and fetish style into her performance.

She chose her stage name, Dita, as a tribute to the silent film actress Dita Parlo. In December 2002, during her cover shoot for Playboy magazine, she was asked to choose a last name. She chose Von Treese from her phone book, but Playboy misspelled it Von Teese. Instead of having it corrected, she decided to keep it that way.

In addition to her now iconic name, she is also known for her look, painted eyes, heavily drawn eyebrows, crimson lipstick and blue-black hair. "I have my signature look and I'm sticking to it, because it's the look that is one hundred percent me, and one hundred percent created by me. I might be a one-trick for it. But it's a pretty good trick!"


Particularly known for her burlesque routines, the press frequently calls her the "Queen of Burlesque". She began practicing burlesque in 1992 and, as a neo-burlesque (or new burlesque) advocate, has helped popularize its revival. In her own words, she "puts the tease back into striptease" with long dance performances, elaborated with props and characters, and often inspired by the musicals and films of the 1930s and 1940s.

Among her most famous dances were elements such as a carousel horse, a giant compact, a filigree heart, and a bathtub on legs with a working shower head. Her Feathered Fan Dance, inspired by burlesque dancer Sally Rand, featured the world's largest feathered fan, now on display at the Hollywood Sex Museum.

Her burlesque career has given rise to some memorable performances. Among her signature acts, we can mention: The Martini Glass, The Opium Den, Le Bain Noir (reimagined for the Crazy Horse show in 2009), Bird of Paradise, Lazy (inspired by Marilyn Monroe's performance in "There's No Business Like Show Business"), The Champagne Glass, and The Black Swan (based on Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's ballet).

In October 2006, she made an appearance at the Crazy Horse in Paris, becoming the first ever guest star of this very famous cabaret.


Von Teese has also achieved a certain level of recognition in the fetish world as a lace-up artist. By wearing a corset for many years, she has reduced her waistline to 56 cm, and can be laced down to 42 cm. In a press interview, she said she loved "fetishism for its powers of transformation and also for its beauty". Her heroes in vintage fetish history include John Willie, Bettie Page and Irving Klaw.

She has appeared on many fetish magazine covers, including Bizarre and Marquis, the cover of Midori's book, "The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage", she was also featured in Playboy in 1999, 2001 and 2002, and was chosen by the German metal band Atrocity as the cover model for their 2008 album Werk 80 II.


Her first book, "Burlesque and the Art of the Teese: Fetish and the Art of the Teese", written in collaboration with Bronwyn Garrity and published in 2006, outlines her views on the history of burlesque and fetishism. Following this release, Vanity Fair magazine called her a "Burlesque Superheroine."

In 2015, she released a second book, "Your Beauty Mark: The Ultimate Guide to Eccentric Beauty", co-authored with Rose Apodaca, which exposes her glamorous arsenal. In her book, she is joined by her friends, masters of makeup, hair, medicine and exercise, and some of the world's most eccentric beauties, for insightful advice on nutrition, exercise, skincare and fragrance, as well as accessible techniques for creating Dita Von Teese-like hair and makeup looks. This book received a huge success. Published in several languages, it is "requisite reading for pin-up, burlesque and fashion fans across the globe."

In 2021, she published her third book, "Fashioning the Femme Totale", a guide to her distinctly modern view of vintage style.


Fashion icon and regular feature on best-dressed lists around the world, Von Teese has developed her own distinctive brands. Her eponymous lingerie collection, which began at Bloomingdales, has since expanded to other popular retailers such as Nordstrom, David Jones and Glamuse.com. She has also created a collection of luxury gloves, a line of support stockings, a collection of fragrances and eyewear, and launched the world's first ever stripper candle.

"Dita Von Teese is a bona fide fashion icon, reknowned all over the world over for her intrinsic sense of beauty and style. Dita is an advocate for glamour being accessible to all women and her collections capture this spirit while being functional for moments of everyday beauty and luxury." (ditavonteeselingerie.com)


In addition to burlesque performance, writing and her successful fashion business, she also developed an acting career and appeared in several television shows. In her early years, she appeared in softcore adult films such as "Romancing Sara", "Matter of Trust", as well as two hardcore fetish films by Andrew Blake, "Pin Ups 2" and "Decadence". She also appeared in more mainstream films, such as Delaney Bishop's 2005 short film, "The Death of Salvador Dali", for which she won the Best Actress award at the Beverly Hills Film Festival. In 2006, she appeared in an episode of America's Next Top Model, in a workshop designed to teach contestants sensuality through burlesque dancing and posing. In 2007, she participated in the adult entertainment event Erotica 07 in London with the Italian rock band Belladonna.

In 2011, she starred as Rita Von Squeeze, a femme fatale version of herself, in the CBS crime drama series, "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (episode "A Kiss Before Frying"). Her appearance in this episode "brought burlesque to prime time television in the States as a guest star on CSI, performing her trademark Martini Glass show in one of their highest rated episodes of all time" (ditavonteeselingerie.com).

In 2021, she participated in the British version of The Masked Dancer, masked as Beetroot, and in the 11th season of the French version of Dancing with the Stars, where she finished 5th out of 13 candidates.


She also has to her list of achievements a number of music videos, including the music video for the song "Redundant" by Green Day, the one for "Zip Gun Bop" by the swing band Royal Crown Revue, the one for "Mobscene" by Marilyn Manson in which she performs her burlesque number of the martini-glass, or the music video "Up in the Air" by Thirty Seconds to Mars in 2013.

In 2022, she also appeared in the music video of Taylor Swift's song "Bejeweled", a collaboration she particularly enjoyed. "I had a wonderful time working with Taylor’s stylist Joseph Cassell on creating the costumes with Catherine D’Lish, and coaching Taylor on the act. And what a delight to perform alongside her for the video! Taylor’s generosity radiates in all that she does. I’m deeply touched by her kindness in acknowledging not only me, but burlesque, an American art form to which I have dedicated my life. It was a true pleasure to share my martini glass act with her."

She also participated in a burlesque striptease number in George Michael's tour, for the song "Feelin' Good", in 2008, and participated the following year in the Eurovision Song Contest as a member of the German performance "Miss Kiss Kiss Bang", which finished 20th out of 25 in the final. However, she said after the contest that her cleavage was censored during the show because it was too voluptuous.


In addition, Von Teese has collaborated on several musical projects, including the song "Disintegration" by the Australian electronic music group Monarchy in 2013, and the song "Gucci Coochie" by Die Antwoord, a South African alternative hip-hop group, in 2016. She also recorded a full-length album with French artist Sebastien Tellier. Released in 2018, the 10-song album titled "Dita Von Teese" was produced by the Record Makers label and reached respectively No. 140 and No. 142 in the charts in Belgium and France.


In 2018, Dita and her burlesque troupe performed in historic theaters across Europe, with five sold-out nights at the London Palladium. They made burlesque history by bringing this type of show to the Opéra Garnier in Monte Carlo, with Prince Albert II in attendance.

In 2019, she begins a world tour, with four full revues. Postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it continued in 2022 in Europe and the United Kingdom, with four nights at the Folies Bergère, a week at the London Palladium and a night at the Opéra Garnier in Monte Carlo, then in 2023 in the United States. Her revues, "Strip, Strip, Hooray!", "The Art of the Teese", "Dita Von Teese and the Copper Coupe" and "Glamonatrix", are "the biggest burlesque shows in history, showcasing a diverse case of the crème de la crème of neoburlesque performers of all genders, hailing from all over the world.

In addition to these touring shows, each New Year’s Eve, Dita produces an opulent gala show at The Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles, selling out the palatial Golden Age vaudeville theatre to an audience that loves to dress to the nines in vintage style, creating an unforgettable atmosphere of glamour not to be missed!" (ditavonteeselingerie.com)


"I Advocate Glamour. Every Day. Every Minute." – Dita Von Teese


Beyond her career, Dita Von Teese is also a great activist in the fight against AIDS. She was the spokesperson for MAC Viva Glam from 2006 to 2008, and has participated in numerous events for AmfAR, one of the most important American and worldwide foundations for the financing of prevention and medical research against this disease. In 2008, she was honored with the foundation's Courage Award. In addition, "her status as a burlesque star and modern-day feminist garnered her the coveted invitation to address the Oxford Student Union in February 2006" (ditavonteeselingerie.com), one of the oldest and most prestigious British student associations in the world.




Article by Julie Henry Poutrel for Adama Toulon.

© Photo: The Heart Truth - Public domain