Dita Von Teese's rhinestone-drenched Las Vegas residency part of growing burlesque scene

Dita Von Teese at "Dita Las Vegas: A Jubilant Revue." The residency opened at the Horseshoe Las Vegas on Oct. 26, 2023.
Dita Von Teese at "Dita Las Vegas: A Jubilant Revue." The residency opened at the Horseshoe Las Vegas on Oct. 26, 2023.
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When Dita Von Teese’s signature martini glass prop was revealed on stage during the opening night of her new Las Vegas residency, the audience went wild.

“Finally!” someone yelled after the curtains were drawn to reveal the prop. Others cheered on burlesque star Von Teese climbed into the glass, kicking up her legs just so and spinning in the water.

The performance was one of a number of Von Teese’s acts featured in “Dita Las Vegas: A Jubilant Revue.” Held in the same theater as the former showgirl performance "Jubilee!," Von Teese's production has repurposed some of the original Bob Mackie-designed showgirl costumes and headdresses.

Inside the Jubilee Theater, the audience cheered on performers with shouts and whistles. Others dressed up for the occasion, draped in rhinestones and feathers akin to the performers on stage.

“We like to support not just the local (burlesque) community, but people around the world. So when something big like this happens, we’re all in,” said Lolita Haze, a local burlesque performer who attended the show. She added that burlesque lets people “live their own fantasy of glitz and glamour and be a part of it, whether it be in the audience or onstage themselves.”

Dita Von Teese performs her signature martini glass act at "Dita Las Vegas: A Jubilant Revue." The residency opened at the Horseshoe Las Vegas on Oct. 26, 2023.
Dita Von Teese performs her signature martini glass act at "Dita Las Vegas: A Jubilant Revue." The residency opened at the Horseshoe Las Vegas on Oct. 26, 2023.

While burlesque’s popularity dwindled after the mid-1900s, Von Teese’s new residency comes amid a revival in the local burlesque scene. Experts and performers have attributed the growing numbers in part to Von Teese, who has introduced burlesque to a wider audience and brought on diverse performers to work with her on stage.

“What I love is that we're living in a time where (burlesque has) come to mean something different,” Von Teese, 51, told USA TODAY, noting that she would have been finished working by the time she was 30 if she had been performing during its heyday. But today, "our community has just become a place where all types of people are celebrated.”

An evolving burlesque scene

The neo-burlesque movement got its start in the 1990s, with a new generation of performers reclaiming the art form. More women took to the stage at this time with a new post-feminist worldview that was reflected in their performances, according to Dustin Wax, executive director of the Burlesque Hall of Fame museum in Las Vegas.

Even with classic burlesque, “you can see women standing up for themselves, taking the stage, taking up public space at a time when women weren't supposed to be public at all, let alone taking their clothes off,” he said. Burlesque “embraces women's sexuality and agency and their control over their own bodies. And all of those themes have been made very explicit in the neo-burlesque movement.”

Dustin Wax, Executive Director of the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Dustin Wax, Executive Director of the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, Nevada.

That message has connected with burlesque fans and performers alike.

“It's an empowering thing to be in control of what you're wearing or not wearing. And the whole feminist aspect of it has always been a huge part of it for me,” said Michaela Nelson, a professional costumer who attended the Thursday show.

The neo-burlesque scene is also known for being more inclusive. Von Teese's show, for instance, has both men and women in costumes originally meant for showgirls who fit a very specific aesthetic.

“I love the idea that we're seeing things evolve and change and staying true to some of the code and then breaking some of the rules,” Von Teese told USA TODAY. “This is the first time that these costumes will be seen on shorter people, older people, men. So it’s a very different thing for this Vegas show, but it’s also sexy.”

With burlesque, “you can be yourself,” said Tina Cione, a local burlesque performer who attended the show's opening night. “You can be like rock and roll, you can be classic, you can be avant-garde, fat, skinny. It doesn’t matter.”

Joey and Steffi Scott, left; Tina Cione, center; and Lolita Haze at the opening night for Dita Las Vegas.
Joey and Steffi Scott, left; Tina Cione, center; and Lolita Haze at the opening night for Dita Las Vegas.

That inclusivity has helped the burlesque scene grow, according to Wax. He said the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender ‒ an annual festival that draws in both fans and performers to Las Vegas ‒ had about 220 applicants for performance slots when he first joined as executive director in 2012. Last year, after the museum made its application process more stringent, there were 460.

Lynn Sally, a scholar and the author of the book "Neo-Burlesque Striptease as Transformation," said she has also seen the scene grow since she started teaching a class on burlesque about 20 years ago.

Back then, "burlesque was underground. It wasn't really being talked about or represented in the media as much as it is today," she said. "So the burlesque scene in the United States is definitely growing and evolving. It's become increasingly part of the popular lexicon. It has grown exponentially, not just in terms of numbers, but also in terms of where it's represented in different regions."

Local performers have also noticed the growth and say it has helped grow tight-knit communities among performers.

“It’s small, but it’s definitely growing. And it’s growing quickly,” said Lolita Haze, a local burlesque performer who attended the Thursday night show. “I feel like more and more people are being inspired by the current performers."

“I found my tribe here. I found my people, my chosen family,” added Steffi Scott, another Las Vegas-based burlesque performer.

"Dita Las Vegas: A Jubilant Revue" opened at the Horseshoe Las Vegas on Oct. 26, 2023.
"Dita Las Vegas: A Jubilant Revue" opened at the Horseshoe Las Vegas on Oct. 26, 2023.

'One of the biggest things to happen to burlesque'

Industry experts and fans attributed part of that resurgence to Von Teese’s success.

“I think a lot of people discovered burlesque because they discovered Dita Von Teese,” Wax said. “She's kind of the entry portal for a lot of people. … It pushes the envelope in mainstream society to be more accepting of the kind of crazy stuff that people are doing now in their shows.”

Scott, the local burlesque performer, said Von Teese has helped make burlesque a household name. Von Teese has toured the world with her burlesque shows, made appearances on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "RuPaul's Drag Race," and can be seen in music videos for Taylor Swift and Thirty Seconds to Mars.

A wall of pasties at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, Nevada.
A wall of pasties at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“She made it known to people like my mother in Germany who had no idea what burlesque was, but she knows who Dita Von Teese is,” Scott said.

“I think this (show) is probably one of the biggest things to happen to burlesque,” Cione, another local burlesque performer, said. “People are seeing it more, so they're finally realizing that it's something they could also do. They're seeing that, oh, I don’t have to just stand on the sidelines.”

And that growth is expected to continue, especially as performers like Von Teese continue to promote burlesque.

“She's returned the celebrity to burlesque performers,” Haze said. “It's really exciting, because I believe it's going to help the local scene grow as well, because people are now going to start seeing burlesque everywhere, a quality burlesque show, and they're going to search for it beyond just Dita. They're going to look for it on a local level.”

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dita Von Teese takes Vegas: Burlesque star debuts to growing scene