Indigenous burlesque troupe upends stereotypes on stage

Sparkle Plenty, one of six artists with all-Indigenous burlesque troupe Virago Nation, is using performance to present her sexuality on her own terms.

Performers with Virago Nation strut their stuff on their own terms

Members of the burlesque troupe Virago Nation perform to tell their own stories about Indigenous sexuality. (Fubarfoto/Virago Nation)

Sparkle Plenty wants the world to know she's not your stereotype. 

Plenty is one of six performers with the all-Indigenous burlesque troupe Virago Nation, which is based in Vancouver. The troupe is set to perform Friday night at the Calgary International Burlesque Festival. 

The performers keep their real identities separate from their stage personas, Plenty told the Calgary Eyeopener Friday, which is why she declined to provide her legal name. But her stage persona is a vital part of how she defines herself. 

Indigenous women can be proud of being sexual, of being sexy.- Sparkle Plenty

"For me it was this way of using my body as a medium to tell a story and to become comfortable with my appearance, because I was used to the images that were presented to me through media, and magazines and music videos," Plenty said.

"I thought that I could never be a sexual being or attractive or anything along those lines because I didn't fit that cookie-cutter mould."

Burlesque, Plenty said, is a way for her to present her sexuality and feminine identity on her own terms. 

Sparkle Plenty, pictured here in red with the rest of her burlesque troupe, will be performing at the Calgary International Burlesque Festival. (Tiffany Ireland/Virago Nation)

The women in Virago Nation come from various Indigenous backgrounds and communities in Canada, with burlesque as the common thread that has helped them to explore their Indigenous roots.

Virago means warrior woman, and these women say they are fighting a battle to reclaim the narrative around Indigenous sexuality. 

"We wanted to show a strength in Indigenous women, especially creating a new narrative with Indigenous sexuality, because we were used to hearing stories about the Highway of Tears and then the hyper-sexualized costumes like Pocahontas.

"It's breaking down that stereotype, showing that having a healthy relationship with your body transcends race. Indigenous women can be proud of being sexual, of being sexy, of showing their body on their own terms."

One of the group's numbers, titled Not Your Stereotype, sees the troupe strut on stage wearing Pocahontas costumes, headdresses and even a Cleveland Indians jersey.

Burlesque has historically challenged societal norms and expectations, but Plenty said that within the Indigenous community Virago has been welcomed with open arms.

They've performed at Vancouver's Talking Stick Festival, Ottawa's Asinabka Film & Media Arts Festival and Tipi Confessions, a show that explored indigenous sexuality.

The Calgary International Burlesque Festival runs Oct. 13-15.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener