Androsia Wilde never expected whispers that her African-inspired performing style was "unpolished" or "not acceptable for larger stages" when she started performing burlesque in Vancouver six years ago.
Nor did she expect to be the only Black performer in many productions for years on end.
Wilde, 31, is now a member of Diasporic Dynasty, a newly formed collective seeking to champion and uplift the narratives of Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) both on stage and behind the scenes in Vancouver's performing arts community.
"There are many BIPOC performers who might see stages that aren't really for them or aren't able to even see themselves doing this kind of art," Wilde said about the local scene.
"But if we are able to provide a stage for them and are able to bring them out, that would mean the world to me."
Diasporic Dynasty formed this summer in response to local and global discussions raised by the Black Lives Matter movement challenging systemic racism across many industries.
Building representation on and off stage
The collective publicly launched in Vancouver on Thursday, debuting an online burlesque showcase supported by KW studios titled Behold Us, with a cast and crew made up almost entirely of BIPOC individuals.
"The easier part of representation is what you see on stage, but it's all the individual parts that make it work, so it would be great if we had more fully BIPOC teams," Wilde said.
Wilde said having a BIPOC stage manager, lighting and sound director, videographer, and photographer in addition to an entirely BIPOC cast working on the showcase was a win for the collective.
The growing collective currently has around 20 members and includes burlesque, drag, clown and comedy performers.
Roxy Reverie, a 26-year-old burlesque performer in the collective, said working this showcase where she wasn't the only person of colour helped her feel more comfortable to express herself — free of any fear of being judged or encountering racism or the micro-aggressions she's faced in other productions.
"The Dynasty is really amazing because backstage I felt the most authentic and safe in terms of my racial identity," Reverie said.
Reverie said the collective is not so much about creating an exclusive space, but about coming together as BIPOC performers and crew members to navigate ways to create space in the local industry and broader community while uplifting each other.
Reckoning with anti-racism
Wilde said the burlesque community in Vancouver had a bit of a reckoning this year, too.
The idea for the collective was sparked after a few current members, including Wilde and Reverie, shared their grievances and challenges with systemic racism at Vancouver International Burlesque Festival's "Centering Black Voices: Anti-racism in Vancouver Burlesque" panel in June.
Wilde, who grew up in the Bahamas, said many people in Vancouver's performing arts community dismiss or are micro-aggressive toward more cultural and non-mainstream expressions of burlesque because it is unfamiliar to them.
"[Burlesque] is a way for us, especially performers of colour, to come to terms with how colonialism and capitalism have viewed our bodies, sexuality, histories and ancestries," said Wilde.
"Burlesque, for me, is to be able to define these things on my own terms and use my culture to perform in those ways."
These discussions earlier in the summer led local dance company Luminesque Dance to issue a public acknowledgement and apology to Black performers and leaders in the local dance industry.
In an Instagram post, the company's CEO apologised for "appropriating" and "stealing" Black dance genres as well as for using them without context. The company also shared anti-racism awareness information on its website.
Wilde hopes to see more people producing less "non-all white shows" in the future, giving more access to casts, crews, and audiences of colour to the performing arts scene.