Burlesque is now relatively mainstream, having moved from sleazy theaters to hip venues like House of Blues, where this weekend Dita Von Tesse will be performing in her review "Strip, Strip Hooray," in partnership with Cointreau.
To clarify some critical terms, I asked my friend, Josephine McCulley, an adult entertainer in Los Angeles, about the difference between stripping and burlesque. McCulley explained, "Burlesque, unlike stripping, usually has a very vintage, theatrical feel to the performances, with props and costumes. Nudity is usually replaced with teasing glimpses and suggestive, coy flashes and shimmies."
With that in mind, here's how my exchange went with Dita Von Tesse:
What is the Cointreau Rickey, your signature drink that's being served at your House of Blues performances?
The Cointreau Rickey includes only 3 ingredients: Cointreau, lime and soda. The bitter and sweet orange oils found in Cointreau help balance out the acidity of the lime, while fortifying the cocktail with an 80 proof strength consistent with other spirits.
Do you actually make this drink at home?
When entertaining at home, I love creating what I call "The Cointreau Rickey Bar". I arrange fresh and seasonal ingredients like basil, strawberries, grapefruit, sage or watermelon on the table and instruct my guests to simply muddle the fruit and herbs in a glass and add Cointreau, lime and soda. Allowing your guests to create their own signature drink is a fun and easy way to engage them, while satisfying everyone's palate.
In what way does the Cointreau Rickey reflect you and what you do on stage?
While the Cointreau Rickey only has three ingredients, when it all comes together it has a wonderful effect, and the first sip leaves you wanting more. I love its delicate taste contrasting with its strong personality. Similar to my performances, there is always a little bit of 'teese' in the beginning that entices the audience. Both mixology and burlesque are art forms steeped in history and tradition. They both bring out a sense of innate decadence and both service our guilty pleasures.
How would you describe your act?
My full length revue "Strip Strip Hooray!" features four of my most extravagant acts, alongside a cast of the most unique burlesque performers from all over the world. Each of my own acts in the show is very different. I create each one from my own personal fantasies and obsessions. Of course I get inspiration from the Golden Age of Hollywood, and of classic American burlesque, but I also incorporate many modern elements to the shows to bring striptease to a place it hasn't been before in burlesque history. This is important to the overall evolution of burlesque and what will allow it to live on and be reconsidered as a legitimate form of entertainment as it was in the 1930s and 40s in America.
Let's talk about your upcoming show at House of Blues - as an artist, what response are you hoping to elicit in the audience? Is it purely entertainment?
"Strip Strip Hooray" is neo-burlesque. I hope that people will see this show and have a better understanding of what burlesque was and see how it has evolved for this new audience, which is mainly comprised of people from all walks of life that enjoy sensuality, glamour and fun all in one show. Just last night, we had three generations of women that came to see the show...the young daughters, their mother and their grandmother, and in fact, the grandmother won our dance contest! 80 percent of our audience is female, and it's very clear that they are inspired by a show like ours which celebrates the art of creating beauty, of diversity and of sexual empowerment. I like the idea of changing people's minds about striptease. I find something very powerful and interesting in the confusion of elements-- sensuality, elegance, playfulness vulgarity, high fashion, sex, humor. I enjoy the challenge of making something taboo something chic.
Do you feel that your shows are misunderstood...or at this point in time, do most people "get it"?
Well, listen, the day everyone "gets it" is the day I feel I've missed the mark. I strongly feel that to be universally accepted is to exist in the mediocre. I am presenting nudity, fetishism, obsession, fantasy, extravagance, frivolity, sexuality...these are all subjects that people are very opinionated about. With the fact that my fan base is overwhelmingly female, the common arguments about feminism and striptease become more difficult for detractors to address in their usual ways. In the 20 years that I've been doing what I do, basing each choice I make on my personal beliefs and instincts has served me well, and if I had faltered and tried to let other people put their ideas upon me, or if I had tried to be an acceptable role model for everyone, I would have a completely different existence, and I probably would be existing in a very "mediocre" state where no one would care what I was doing, and I'm sure I would have regret, which might be the lowest depth of misery.