Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Culture Lesson: Twerking

Twerking was a spring fad that will not die. (I wrote this lesson over the summer and had t edit it several times.) It is a semi-suggestive, wild dance. It is usually very sexual.

I'm going to liberally copy from Wikipedia. Because it saves time, and I've been an unexpectedly busy lady this year:

Twerking is a dance move that involves a person shaking their upper hips and lower hips in an up and down bouncing motion, causing them to shake, 'wobble' and 'jiggle.'"[1] To "twerk" means to "dance in a sexually suggestive fashion by twisting the hips."[2]


The word "twerking" may be derived from one of three sources:
  1. a portmanteau of twat and work. Work in reference to Work It.
  2. a contraction of "footwork", or[1]
  3. a portmanteau of twist and jerk.[1]
Ties have been made to many traditional African dances.[3] An example of such traditional dances is Mapouka.
Was that too long? According to Mental Floss, "To twerk, essentially, is to shake one’s butt." But (ha!) the behind must gyrate in a specific way. Simply shaking your booty will not suffice. For example, I can shake my rumpus, but my behind will likely never twerk. The Young People love to twerk.

I think this article from New York Magazine is informative.

Did you need a history, to impress the Young Person in your life, born after 1994? From that same Mental Floss article:
In the early 90s, New Orleans was home “bounce” music, a form of hip hop that relied heavily on call-and-response chanting. A popular artist at the time, DJ Jubilee, recorded a song called “Do the Jubilee All.” When the accompanying video featured young people furiously shaking their fessiers alongside the lyrics “twerk baby, twerk baby, twerk, twerk, twerk”—the word “twerk” a combination of the words twist and jerk—the new dance craze had arrived with a new name.
Who doesn't love New Orleans? Make sure to talk about bounce confidently when educating the 19-year-old. 

Diplo's "Express Yourself" (released last year) brought twerking hurtling into the present. Diplo is an American DJ, and his New Orleans-based video displays a more sexualized, dramatic twerk than that of the '90s. The video is below, but modest Old People should steel themselves, as Diplo's music is not for every Old Person, and shaking behinds are not for most of them:

The fad further catapulted further when Miley Cyrus shared a video of her twerking in a unicorn costume. Unfortunately, she also brought to light that young, white people of privilege see twerking as another way to use black women as their puppets.

Cyrus's video "We Can't Stop" was largely about her young, slender, pretty, white friends doing "wild things," but she also trotted out a handful of adult black women to twerk for her. As if to say, "Look at these funny black women!"

To quote Shae Collins, in a guest post for Racialicious:
Type “twerk” into youtube and you’ll find several young women accepting the sex-object role that the music demands of them. These demands become increasingly problematic when they involve race and gender. Notice that no expectations are placed on men or women of other ethnicities to twerk. People are often shocked when white women do it.
Miley Cyrus followed this up last month with what New York Magazine called a "minstrel show" (HEAR, HEAR):
Cyrus has spent a lot of time recently toying with racial imagery. We’ve seen Cyrus twerking her way through the video for her big hit “We Can’t Stop,” professing her love for “hood music,” and claiming spiritual affinity with Lil’ Kim. Last night, as Cyrus stalked the stage, mugging and twerking, and paused to spank and simulate analingus upon the ass of a thickly set African-American backup dancer, her act tipped over into what we may as well just call racism: a minstrel show routine whose ghoulishness was heightened by Cyrus’s madcap charisma, and by the dark beauty of “We Can’t Stop” — by a good distance, the most powerful pop hit of 2013.
So... Miley can't stop being racist? (Miley, who said she never listened to Jay-Z suddenly listens to "hood music"? Seriously?)

So keep that in mind, Old People, as you broach the conversation about twerking.

Additional Resources:

What is the Origin of Twerking?, Mental Floss 
Is Miley Cyrus' twerking racist?, Slate
Let's Get Ratchet! Check Your Privilege At The Door, Racialicious
Sorority Girls Must Twerk: Cultural Demands on Black Women, Racialicious
A User's Guide to Twerking, New York Magazine 
Rosen on the 2013 VMAs and Miley's Minstrel Show, New York Magazine 

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