In the wake of the video of the “father” beating his daughters with an extension cord, I thought that we should have a serious dialog about the politics around twerking.
Some folks might object to using “serious” and “twerking” in the same sentence but the art of booty-shaking is very complex. And yes, I did call twerking an art. According to writer Cosmic Yoruba, who wrote this piece for This is Africa, the style of dance in which the booty is the main focus and movement is actually rooted to traditions dances found in black cultures across the black diaspora. Writes Yoruba, those dances includes the Columbia gouyad/gouye; Jamaican whinin’ and the very salacious Mapuoka (which is translated to mean: the dance of the behind) from the Ivory Coast. If you have never seen the Mapuoka in action, pause this column and watch this video compilation of the dance, right now! You don’t need an African heritage DNA test to see that there are some ancestral oneness between the ladies in this video and the Twerk Team.
But even with its roots being firmly planted in the diaspora, Yoruba writes that the various incarnations of the booty dance still has to fight against attacks that it is vulgar, ghetto and immoral. She writes;
“There is a long history of Black women being sexually exploited, objectified, and labelled sexually lascivious in the Americas during slavery, and the story of Sarah Baartman is familiar to many; she was the Khoikhoi woman who was taken from her home in Eastern Cape to be displayed in “freak shows” across Europe for her large bottom, and subjected to scientific dissection after her death. With such a history, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that many are still not comfortable with Black women shaking or displaying their bottoms. However, it is necessary to question that discomfort since women’s bodies belong to them, and how they choose to display or shake what belongs to them is for them to decide. It is necessary to challenge the dehumanising and objectifying gaze that will view women booty shaking as mere sexual objects, as well as the colonial gaze that labels African expressions as obscene”
I can not twerk like the girls in the YouTube videos but I do love to shake A$$. I do it around the house cooking or cleaning and when “my jawn” comes on the radio or at the club. I wiggle my tail whenever I hear good news. I think that one of the main reasons why I love Zumba is because there is a lot of hip twirling and A$$-shaking. In fact, my hip and A$$ shaking is so ferocious at times that I have been known to pop a few threads on my waist belt, sending small gold metal coins and beads flying across the Zumba room. Yes there is something second nature to my booty-shaking. And I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge ways in which my A$$-shaking could be sexual stimulating. Growing up being constantly made aware that I do not posses a black girl’s booty I spent a considerable amount of time denying myself the opportunity to feel confident about the bottom half of my body. However I am a little older, a little more forgiving and a little more comfortable in my skin. Therefore, when I back that thang up, it is much more an expression about how powerful and accepting I feel about myself than what sexual titillation someone else may receive or even perceive.
There are lots of reason for one to twerk. In fact, I would be so daring as to say that twerking is a rightful dance and just as respectable as ballet, Latin, jazz or any other dance classified as legitimate art-forms. I doubt that there will be touring companies of twerkers making it clap at Carnegie Hall anytime soon but Fela! did do exceptionally well on Broadway and it wasn’t just because of the music or the story. There is a certain skill to twerking. I mean, you can’t just come in, off the street, bend over and start P-poppin’ it. I mean, you sort of can but it takes practice. Even Miley Cyrus had to start somewhere. For those unaware, there is all sorts of muscles moving, coordination, the rolling of ankles and squats, which happens when you are trying to make your butt move. Have you ever tried to get down low, bounce one butt cheek (just one), stop and bounce the other butt cheek; stop and then bounce them both at one time? What about doing a hand stand while simultaneously jiggling your booty to the beat? Of course you haven’t, but once you finish reading this article you certainly will. Point is, there is a certain level of physical endurance one must have to be about propel and control mass through space. Likewise, there are certain rules, which govern proper postures and techniques and even opportunities for competing against an opponent. In a fairer world, twerking could be an athletic endeavor. But heck, we still live in a country, which still doesn’t recognize cheerleading as a sport.
Last year, a vlogger by the name of StrugglingToBeHeard recorded and uploaded a video called “Twerk for Mother’s Day,” which was to honor all the undervalued and marginalized mothers, “who bust their A$$ for a society that does not really respect their work.” In an interview about the video, the vlogger says
“We twerk for justice, liberation and solidarity because: justice, as defined by marginalized people, is different from the dominant ones in society and so our own acts of justice will be defined by ourselves. Liberation because we have been restricted, tied down and abused by the societies we’ve lived in for too long and we will liberate ourselves through acts of dance and loving oneself and owning our bodies. Solidarity because we know some people have to twerk to survive, some twerk for their emotional health, others form bonds of friendship through twerking, some can release energies that they’ve been forced to hold in for too long. So basically, when we say we are twerking for justice, liberation and solidarity, we are twerking for ourselves and our sisters. We are twerking to say F**K YOU to the politics of respectability that say you are only worthy if you do x, y, z when we have learned that in a white supremacist patriarchal capitalist society, we are worthless to the dominant groups even when we do do x, y, z. We twerk because we will not be tamed, shut up or told what to do. We twerk because we want to and we are tired of people telling us what to do with our own bodies.”
The video was re-uploaded anonymously onto the website World Star Hip Hop where it was then misappropriated as a joke. Watching that video last week of the two black girls being savagely beat with an extension cord by their father for daring to move their hips, bellies and bottoms once again reminded me of StrugglingToBeHeard’s message about just how little control women, particularly black women have over defining what is respectable. And as much as folks worry about the exploitation, which could occur from those young girls willfully shaking their behinds on video pales in comparison to the subjugation that occurs every time we deny girls and women a say in the context in which their bodies should be viewed. This is the conversation I wish this dad would have had with his daughter instead of beating and then humiliating them by uploading the evidence to YouTube.