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Talk catches up with the queen of burlesque, Dita Von Teese, on her first visit to India.
Every generation has had its own form of counterculture. From the flappers to the beatniks to the hippies, all these movements questioned the morality of their particular time, and poked fun at the society with cheerful irreverence. Starting in England in the 1830s, burlesque — an artistic work that caricatures serious works — was the medium of protest against Victorian prudishness. When it crossed over to America, it took on a more risque avatar, incorporating striptease and bawdy humour. But the Prohibition era in the US led to its demise in the 1930s.
It was in the 1990s that the word "burlesque" began to make rounds of fashionable circles in New York, Los Angeles and other cities in the US. And it was often coupled with a name — that of Dita Von Teese. Born Heather Sweet in Michigan, Von Teese — with her classical good looks, flamboyant costumes, props and intricate stage routines — put burlesque back on the map and was hailed as "the queen of burlesque". For someone who originally wanted to be a fashion designer, Von Teese has come a long way.
"It happened so gradually that it never really struck me that I am a professional burlesque performer, until 2002. Apart from that, I was — at various points — working in a lingerie store, posing as a pin-up girl, working as an exotic dancer in LA nightclubs, and performing burlesque was just one of my several jobs," she recalls. It was in 2002 that her transformation to Dita Von Teese was complete. "I had been using Dita as my stage name for several years but when I posed for Playboy in 2002, I was told I have to have a last name as well. I randomly picked 'Von Treese', but there was a printing error and it appeared as Dita Von Teese. I just decided to go with it, and it turned out pretty well," she says.