Too Spirited for the 2020 Queer Arts Festival

Invigorating all-indigenous Burlesque group, Virago Nation, frolics on stage to embrace being “too much”

Burlesque group, Virago Nation, showcases Indigenous resilience and power at QAF 2020. Courtesy of Kate Whyte Photography

By: Kelly Chia, Features Editor

Too Spirited, an Indigenous burlesque show performed for the Queer Arts Festival, was an amazing reminder of why burlesque is so invigorating to watch: it’s all about getting on stage to take ownership of your body, turning vulnerability into confidence. Sparkle Plenty, the emcee, guided viewers through numbers performed by the all-Indigenous group, Virago Nation. Too Spirited was streamed on Queer Arts Festival, with an interactive chat on the side to cheer the performers throughout their numbers. The attendees were enthusiastic and matched Sparkle’s upbeat energy.  

While Sparkle Plenty spoke, an ASL interpreter helped communicate her words. I don’t often see ASL interpreters at shows which made me really appreciate this attempt to be inclusive and  make burlesque more accessible. 

“Tonight, it’s about highlighting and celebrating our resilience. Our sexy, powerful resilience!” Sparkle Plenty began.”When we hear stories about Indigenous women in the media, the main stories that are being shared are of our suffering or being a caricature. We wanted to show that we’re more than this: that sexuality is fun, and most importantly, a healthy expression of ourselves!” While she spoke, Shane Sable, another performer, cheered in the live chat. Not only was it endearing to see performers support each other, but in this case, it helped the show reach beyond the screen. Sparkle Plenty’s words were powerful ones, and prepared me for the bombastic, beautiful displays of sexuality that I was about to witness. These acts also made me happy about having the option of tipping each performer. 

The first number was performed by RainbowGlitz, and Sparkle Plenty introduced her performance as commentary on tradition through a colonial lens, and true tradition that embraces being naked. RainbowGlitz entered the stage in a crow costume, shuffling to an insistent drum beat. Then, hiding behind a stage prop, she dropped the crow head and reappeared in heels to the tune of Demi Lovato’s “Sorry Not Sorry.” She proceeded to strut and writhe on stage, a complete 180 to the first half of the performance. By the time she left the stage, she was confidently exposing her breasts. Admittedly, not hearing the audience’s cheers after each performance was unusual, but I could hear the other performers encourage the stage performer which felt heartwarming.

Next, Sparkle Plenty performed in a long coral number, slowly stripping her gloves with a brilliant and sassy smile. What I loved about Sparkle Plenty’s performance was that she stripped her hair extensions, and was handed a second ponytail by a person off stage, proceeding to dance wildly with her hair extensions. Her glee was contagious, and I found myself beaming as I watched her. She later said in an exasperated tone, “The moral of the story is, ‘pin your damn wig in’.”

What really made a lasting impression was the third number, performed by Lynx Chase. The song in the background was considerably slower, which showed off Lynx’s control as a pole dancer. I watched in awe as she wound down the pole, seemingly glued to it by her waist and thighs. Every movement seemed smooth and intentional, and I was absolutely mesmerized. In addition, I was struck by Sparkle Plenty’s comments after Lynx’s performance, “Pole dancing has become more popular in the mainstream, and we’re seeing people try to brand it as ‘sexy fitness.’ Never forget that strip culture was birthed by black strippers and sex workers, show your fucking gratitude!”

The show was filled with incredible performances and commentary, with a notable theme of 70s style costuming. Watching the performers embrace their body unabashedly served — as burlesque often does — as a wonderful reminder for me to be more kind to my own. I highly recommend checking out the video recording here if you’re looking for a fun way to spend your night and to support some gorgeous and talented Indigenous babes. Queer Arts Festival will also be streaming the show for a second time on July 26, and will be offering a variety of other events until the festival closes on July 26.