Marking their first in-person performance since the pandemic shutdown, Virago Nation is bringing their brand of joy and acceptance to Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh territories.
The all-Indigenous burlesque group is performing Saturday at Vizzy Forest Lounge as part of Vancouver Pride celebrations.
Shane Sable, a Two-Spirit performer of the Gitxsan Nation, said the night will be filled with flair, drama, drag and resistance. It will also challenge colonial ideas around gender and sexuality.
“Sexuality can be joyful, and it can be a celebration, and it doesn’t have to be always shrouded and weighed down in guilt, shame, propriety, or measures of purity,” said Sable, a convening member of Virago Nation.
“Folks can expect a broad range of badass Indigenous sexuality and empowerment.”
Embracing being Indigenous and/or queer within a sexualized performance art such as burlesque is a radical act that confronts colonization, Sable said.
“That in and of itself is political, making a statement and pushing against some folks who would really rather that we did not — and a society that would really rather we did not.”
Healthy connection to sexuality
As an art form, burlesque celebrates the sexuality of adult performers of all ages and sizes. Shows frequently include provocative dancing to rouse the audience, and performers often strip until they are nearly naked on stage.
Ruthe Ordare, who is of the Mohawk Nation and a founding member of Virago Nation, said for her troupe, it’s also an act of resistance that challenges harmful stereotypes about Indigenous women and Two-Spirit people.
“We’ve lost our healthy connection to sexuality and being able to embrace it in a way that’s positive,” Ordare said.
“For the safety of our community, we have to take out the shame, the virgin-whore dichotomy, objectification, and violence. All these things come from colonization.”
Pushing back against these ideas contributes to the safety and well-being of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, Ordare explained.
“You can expect a beautiful cross-section of politics, drama, sexuality, challenging art, and see a whole spectrum of positive representations of intersectionality in a way that is celebratory,” said Ordare.
Reconnecting to Indigenous understandings of gender and sexuality includes welcoming and accepting Two-Spirit and queer people into communities and embracing the gender expressions of 2SLGBTQIA+ people, Sable added.
“Finding that love and acceptance in the Indigenous community, in a decolonial way of viewing Indigenous bodies and sexualities and genders, has just been a relief.”
Sable adds that when one decolonizes their mindset about sexuality, they can reclaim their identity, self-expression and relationship to their body. For Sable, understanding her gender and sexuality from an Indigenous perspective has helped her let go of harmful beliefs about herself.
“Having that decolonial lens … has in some ways allowed me to breathe a lot easier because it’s allowed that issue to no longer be a critical issue in my life,” Sable said.
“It’s important for everyone to decolonize their attitudes towards sexuality because colonization fundamentally hurts everyone.”
Back on stage
Sable and Ordare said the group is excited to get back into live performance.
A few members of the group recorded performances for Vancouver Pride in 2020 when the festival went digital because of pandemic gathering restrictions, but it wasn’t the same as performing with the energy of a live audience.
“This is a really exciting, celebratory way for us as a group to be together and be with audiences once again, and to collaboratively make that really beautiful magic that happens when you have the interchange between a live audience and a live performance,” said Sable.
The show will also include performances by Virago Nation’s “stage cuzzinz,” Mx Bukuru, Xanax, and Abb’Original, to name a few.
“You will be able to expect a lot of love and enthusiasm for being together and creating this art form for the audience,” Sable said.