BOOK REVIEW DITA VON TEESE BURLESQUE AND THE ART OF THE TEESE BOOK REVIEW – DITA VON-TEESE – BURLESQUE AND THE ART OF THE TEESE 2006 Harper Collins

BOOK REVIEW – DITA VON-TEESE – BURLESQUE AND THE ART OF THE TEESE 2006 Harper Collins.

A stunning look at the entire burlesque industry by the woman who single handedly revived the tradition in the age of cable TV porn, stag-night strip-clubs, lap-dancing, and wet tee-shirt contests. Dita reminded the world that the tease (or Teese) was every bit as important as the strip. Until recently, there has been a long period where the audience has been impatient in wanting the girls to come out ready naked.  The repetitive nature of such shows, where a woman in at best, a bikini (but not for long), struts round a pole, removes her top and bottom  garment, and walks off stage, to be followed by a dozen acts doing exactly the same, had almost killed the burlesque scene until Von teese remindedthe world of how it once was, and now can be again.

Lavishly illustrated with fabulous photos of Dita in a wide range of corsets, lingeries,and tasteful nude poses, it proves a challenge to actually read the words, but the text is also very well presented, seamlessly mixing her own story and experiences with the history of  Burlesque itself. 

Always attracted to the glamour of yesteryear, and the movies of Bettie Grable, Dita feels passionately that a woman needs to look good to feel good, and that she must ooze style even when not in performance.  Von Teeze is not a woman who would flounce aroundin old jeans and a grubby tee-shirt until she had to appear in public.

She traces Burlesque from its early days (arguing convincingly that it began with the comedies of Aristophanes, like the Lysistrata where women teased their men by with-holding sexual favours until the soldiers ended the Greek-Peloponnesian wars.

Burlesque actually means comedy, being literally interpretted as ‘To laugh at’) and comedy remains a major element of the shows, both in having comedy stars between dance routines, and in the burlesque teasing itself. It’s 19th century origins owe much to the Blondes, a troupe of women who scandalized Puritanical Victorian society by performing in short revealing outfits, before moving to the States for more fame, infamy and fortune.  Their success led to the opening of Minskys, a notorious Burlesque club where raids and indecency trials were an every-night hazard. Teese goes onto describe the innovative fan dancing of the greatest burlesque queen, Gypsie Rose Lee, - (staring as an improvisation when a dress she wanted for a show was not completed in time).

Teese points out that the great Burlesque stars, like Gypsy, were not studio pressed or choreographed by managers, and promoters, but mostly self-made women, provng that they had charisma. Teese argues that many were not great dancers, but their vampish charm and streak of independence made few care about that. Far from being exploied, as some feminists might argue, the burlesque stars were self-made women, taking on the men’s World and winning hands down.

Teese performs Burlesque on the grand scale, with giant fans, and by soaking in giant martini glasses, etc. Her predecesors often worked on modest budgets, as do many burlesque stars today, but Teese’s advice and commanding authority and respect for the whole burlesque scene have liftedthe art to new standards and heights that Gypsy would have been proud of.

The Burlesque book is one of a pair, usualy sold in a single volume. The companion book, inverted athe back of Burlesque, FETISH, is the subject of a separate review.

Arthur Chappell

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