News / Vancouver

All-Indigenous burlesque part of 16th annual Talking Stick Festival

Striptease meets activism as city kicks off 10 days of Aboriginal theatre, dance, film.

Members of Virago Nation burlesque troupe will reveal its first group act called “Rezurrecting the Goddesses” on Tuesday, Feb. 21.

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Members of Virago Nation burlesque troupe will reveal its first group act called “Rezurrecting the Goddesses” on Tuesday, Feb. 21.

A politically charged Indigenous burlesque troupe will soon make its debut in Vancouver, as the 16th annual Talking Stick Festival begins in venues around the city.

It’s the first time that the diverse Indigenous performance and arts festival has featured the art of striptease -- but one of its founding members says it’s about much more than just entertainment.

Ruth Ordare says when Virago Nation started out last year, they wanted to break harmful stereotypes and reclaim their sexuality as Indigenous women.

The group consists of six members, with diverse Aboriginal backgrounds and stage names like “Sparkle Plenty” and “Manda Stroyer.”

“(There are) few representations of Aboriginal women’s sexuality and they’re very limiting,” said Ordare, who is Mohawk.

“We wanted to show the funny side, the political side, the seductive side and let women own what they want to be.”

She said Indigenous women are often harmfully viewed in extremes: either hyper-sexualized or seen as not sexual beings at all. As a result of damaging stereotypes, it’s a community that has suffered disproportionately from sexual violence.

“There’s been a lot of trauma in our community,” Ordare said.

“For women to have that own reconciliation with their own bodies is really important.”

Virago Nation will reveal its first group act called “Rezurrecting the Goddesses” on Tuesday, Feb. 21. The festival is also hosting two public pay-what-you-can burlesque workshops on Sunday, Feb. 19.

Deneh’Cho Thompson, one of Talking Stick’s organizers, said he is excited as the 10-day festival’s performances kick-off -- it will consist of everything from a powwow to theatre, dance, art, film and an industry series.

In keeping with the cabaret theme, there will also be an Indigenous drag performance tonight, Feb. 17, centered on two-spirit resilience.

“Over the past three years the festival has been in the process of evolving into a much larger event,” Thompson said.

“Viewership is definitely up.”

The festival runs from Feb. 16 - 26 and the full schedule can be found at fullcircle.ca/talking-stick/events. Most of the programming is pay-what-you-can.