In Defense Of Twerking

64 comments
April 11, 2013 ‐ By Charing Ball
Source: YouTube

Source: YouTube

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.

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  • summerintern

    this can’t be real. shame on madamenoire, a group that tries to uplift black women, for even allowing this article to be edited after its rough draft. twerking is purely sexualization of the female body (not color specific at all). so y’all are willing to defend teeny boppers in teen clubs twerkin on random dudes frontpieces? oh, but that’s just exercise, right? foh.

  • Maggie Pulley

    Twerking for justice? Twerking for solidarity? Twerking for mother’s day? No, just no.

  • Oni

    I am all for leaving it to consenting adults, but there are plenty of young people who do know the connection between African dance and Twerking. Considering African American culture it’s no wonder the physical movements are similar, and it’s a watered down culture so you can’t really expect the emphasis to be on the same things. In my experience it’s just fun to do. Who are you/we really to bash someone who decides what they want to do with their bodies. Also when a lot of grown women are twerking, we are not obsessing over a guy to watch and get their attention.. Just saying.

  • batmanssecretary

    But maybe if black women’s bodies weren’t so sexualised and disrespected in the first place, these young women wouldn’t feel the need to seek validation in such a way, no? Does it make sense to call them “trash” and “s**ts”, as people are doing here, or would it be better to give the twerk ‘artistry’ status? If we treat it like garbage, then we end up sending more messages to young black women that they should be ashamed of their bodies.

  • guest

    Trash

  • Courtney

    Why does it matter whether or not the girls who twerk know anything about traditional African dance? We’re not always cognizant of our African roots/affiliations with every action we perform. That’s a reality that transcends culture. Does every woman who perms her hair think about the way our people were stripped and shaved and homogenized when they were put on those ships to the Western world? Go ahead, I’ll wait. I would provide more scenarios but I’m on my phone and I’d rather not torture myself.

    I don’t think the author of this article is idiotic at all, nor are the other women referenced in this post or any supporters of twerking. They shouldn’t be berated for their choices and opinions. Just because you disagree doesn’t invalidate someones perspective, especially one as articulately conveyed as was done in this article.

    I’m too disgusted with the overwhelming majority of the responses to continue. Its obvious to me that not many people want to have healthy dialogue or are open enough to take a step outside of their comfort zones to atthe very least attempt to explore a perspective that challenges the “norm.”

  • Botopdawg

    are you serious? you used that garbage to defend twerking. I have no use for any of it. I better not catch any of the females in my family doing it. it is disgusting. half of it looked like animals in heat waiting to be mounted. there was no art involved. you were correct in saying that the words serious and twerking shouldn’t be used in the same sentence.

  • Angelie

    I wonder if that vlogger is going to organize a million wo/man march in the name of TWERK. I can see flashmob style booty popping in unison down the street to Juicy J’s “bands a make her dance” song.

    • batmanssecretary

      Somebody make this happen!

  • Angelie

    Wtf? this article can’t be serious. LOL@ “We twerk for justice, liberation and solidarity..” SMDH@ that last block of quoted text. Wow!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ERJitterbugg Johnnie Q. X. Sturner

    *cleans eyeglasses, checks to see if it is correct title and website* Ok, let me zip through this…so the people who twerk are doing it for Africa? They’re actually thinking about “tradition”? Really? Huh………….

  • http://www.facebook.com/derique.marie Derique Fancy Marie

    just for the record, everyone keeps saying “18 and older it’s not a problem”. These girls started making these videos when they were 14 years old. Many of their followers and fans are below the age of 21 and majority of them are between the ages of 7 and up. If a grown woman wants to shake her behind for money that is fine, but any descent GROWN WOMAN would know NOT to do this for camera (unless its for her man) and wouldn’t do this for free. I’m just saying.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kisha.jones.35 Kisha Jones

    Just because it happened in Africa don’t make u look Any less sluty I’m just saying. Can’t believe i actually read half of this article.

  • LilScrappy_w/his_irrelevant_az

    I don’t think its that big o a deal if you are 18 and over. I mean no one makes “this” big of a deal when women are popping it in music videos but if a woman does it on her own camera for fun its so vile?

  • Natalynn

    I was lost at “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.” and “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.” Yes, this was said in the article–I gots ta go LOL!

  • moniqhar

    First let me say that video link of african women was not twerkin that was “the pornagraphy” #in my yaya voice.. now back to the article

  • IllyPhilly

    This is afad like the cr!p walking, Harlem shake, and all the other foolish ish youngings do nowadays. I can’t agree or disagree with the author’s opinions.

  • DYNAMICALLYDELLA

    Proof positive that the information age and infinite amounts of access we have have made many none the wiser…. We have MASTERED the intellectualizing all sorts of foolishness debauchery, mayhem,and degradation. Here’s an idea for your next article- In Defense of adultery and the Sharing of Your Man: Benefits to the race based on ancestral polygamous tradition. Run With it…….

  • Naomi Harmony

    As the vlogger you quoted I really appreciate the article. Ignore the comments. They are coming from a place of colonized minds that say they would rather BEAT AND ABUSE THEIR OWN KID than see them dance. Ok. But I felt your message and appreciated it. Keep doing you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/barbara.codner Barbara Codner

    Does everyone know how to twerk? No, it does take some “skill.” However, it’s way too sexually explicit to do in public. It looks tacky and classless. Young people need to find better ways to express themselves.

  • Meyaka

    I’m from Ivory Coast, I didn’t dance maPOUKA until I was grown and I was doing it for my boyfriend,there is a family version of maPOUKA which involve a shaking of the shoulders as opposed to the bottom. Here in America young women videotape themselves mimicking sexual act and calling it dance,record it and release it for the world to see,and that is not defendable. Lets not use Africa to make a point ,maPOUKA and whining are vulgar and sexual dances that should not be practiced,taped or acclaimed especially when it comes from young black girls who already have a shaky image in the first place.

  • pickneychile

    I am so confused…and that woman’s quote about twerking for solidarity and freedom…wtf?

  • chanela

    sooo just because it’s done in africa then it’s considered “traditional” and okay? well hell, in that case being a baby mama and having AIDS is traditional here too then!

  • http://blackonpurpose.blogspot.com/ gryph

    i rather enjoy looking and fit, solid black women gyrating to a beat, but the twerk videos are boring and indulgent.
    while there’s some skill involved in twerking, i’d say not a whole lot
    compared to other ‘black dance styles’ and such little variation. oh,
    to make sound legit say that it is an ‘africanism’ or ‘liberating’ or
    what ever. if it wasn’t women shaking it no one would care about any of
    that. post a video of women playing oware and see how many views it
    gets, lol.

  • http://blackonpurpose.blogspot.com/ gryph

    i rather enjoy looking and fit, solid black women gyrating to a beat, but the twerk videos are boring and indulgent.
    while there’s some skill involved in twerking, i’d say not a whole lot
    compared to other ‘black dance styles’ and such little variation. oh,
    to make sound legit say that it is an ‘africanism’ or ‘liberating’ or
    what ever. if it wasn’t women shaking it no one would care about any of
    that. post a video of women playing oware and see how many views it
    gets, lol.

  • klassyrn

    have
    several _/ _/ _/….people will add any justification to asinine
    behavior…. I can sit in my garage but that will never make me a
    car…. ballet… is skilled… shaking my arse and hollering twerking
    in the mirror is NOT!….a mind is a terrible thing to waste….
    #NEXT!!!!!
    A few seconds ago · Like

  • FromUR2UB

    I watched the video just to be fair. I’m convinced more than ever that what I saw is just plain traditional FERKING. If you got the right parts together, babies would be conceived from that. Some of the people we’ve seen dancing in clubs and on TV, probably won’t even try an African food. So I doubt that it’s that deep for them. I would be interested to know how other African cultures view this dance. Every culture and society has its fringe element. I suspect all this grinding on each other and touching of the crotch represents some of that.

    • Kenedy

      As an African, i think its ridiculous for her to put African…and Twerking in the same sentence

  • http://www.facebook.com/derique.marie Derique Fancy Marie

    This is beyond ignorant. Just to point out, I took African style dancing before and the focus is not on the shaking of the butt, but more so of moving of the back and chest. “Twerking” has no form of art in it at all. Those girl be looking like they need to wash in their videos.

  • Drew Smith

    Furthermore, Charing, you lost some serious Lucidity Points with me on this one. I have NEVER.

  • Me

    I knew this comment section would be a mess. Respectability politics wins again.

  • Drew Smith

    “We twerk for justice, liberation and solidarity…” Well, God damn. Twerkin’ for justice, though??? I gotta go. Don’t text, email or call me for a bit. They went too far and I need some time to deal with this. SMH.

  • Kristina Tramel

    What is wrong with dancing? If you have a problem with it then don’t do it nobody has the right to tell anyone what to do with their own body!

    • Sheena

      You must be the one that gave thumbs down to every comment. SMH

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/PC3VICMILDFDI2RKWVJQ5ACD24 jason

      nothing is wrong with dancing….but when babies and under age little girls (as well as some boys im sure) are doing this type of sexually suggestive dance there is NOTHING you can say to make that ok.

      • Kristina Tramel

        Where did I say that was okay? I’m referring to woman 18+ years old. No where in my comment did I say it was okay for children to dance this way.

    • Ladybug94

      If they are minors, hell yeah I have a right to tell them what they CAN’T do with their body. Maybe your mom let you be out of control (although I doubt it) but I won’t let my daughter do whatever the hell she wants while she is a minor.

  • KamJos

    Here’s a bit about what Wikipedia has to say about Mapouka:

    “Mapouka, also known under the name of Macouka, is a traditional dance from the area of Dabou in southeast Côte d’Ivoire, sometimes carried out during religious ceremonies. It is also known as, “La danse du fessier” or “the danse of the behind”…

    There are two forms of the dance, the original and the modern. The modern is danced mostly by young people and is considered more obscene and improper by some due to its suggestive nature.

    In 1998, the government of Côte d’Ivoire decided to prohibit its performance in public.[1] It is, paradoxically, following this prohibition that the dance now enjoys a very fast-growing global following, especially in the sub-Saharan countries and western nations with large Francophone communities.”

    Even the traditional people view the modern version as too sexually suggestive and the government banned its public performance.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/PC3VICMILDFDI2RKWVJQ5ACD24 jason

      The dance may have been a tradition in africa……but im pretty sure these young girls knew absolutely NOTHING about that tradition when they started posting vids on youtube.

      • FABCEO29

        Even that video was disgusting. Grinding on each other. How is that art?

      • FABCEO29

        Even that video was disgusting. Grinding on each other. How is that art?

      • IllyPhilly

        You are probably so right it hurts.

      • KamJos

        It’s a case of people claiming “African” only when it’s convenient.

      • Ladybug94

        Hell, I’m welling to bet they don’t even know where Africa is on a map so I know they weren’t thinking of the Motherland when they started this foolishness.

    • Me

      yeah, probably cause that government/country has been colonized and taught this respectability bullshit too.

  • Interesting?

    Wow, what a point of view but I personally dont think it is something to be embraced as this is not a thing presented in this day and age with the history behind it , it was presented as a “dance craze” with the focus on the butt that this day and age has placed “huge” emphasis on

  • your an idiot.

    um..so whoever wrote this article is an idiot.

    • Drew Smith

      Pure and unadulterated idiocy.

  • taz

    all i thought while reading this was…really? is she forreal? lol

    • Drew Smith

      “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.” <— That's copied and pasted. That's a damned shame.

  • abbas

    has this site been hacked or something?

    • Jones

      This is the stupidest post I’ve ever seen on here in my life. They really are reaching with some of this stuff. #babymediatakeout

  • Nia

    Are you kidding me? So now black women are to embrace twerking? MN, you have lost your dayum mind!

  • dutchie

    I’m sorry but have u seen the actual video in which the girls(who got their arses beaten) are twerkin? It was goofy but it was indeed sexual because they started grindin on each other. Besides, of all the cultural heritage we have why do we have to display ourselves as woman with no morals by shakking our asses like strippers??????? Shame on our woman for going with this public. Twerkin should have never gone viral. Its a damn shame, thats what it is. smdh.

    • Nia

      I didn’t see it. I heard about the dad beating them and I felt him! If I had a daughter twerking, and putting a video on yt, I’d beat the dog isht out of them too! Then I saw him beating him and I felt bad for them. He lost it! But……..if you saying they were twerking then grinding on each other, I see why he lost it!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PC3VICMILDFDI2RKWVJQ5ACD24 jason

    please please pleaseeeee tell me this article is a joke.

    • Gimmeabreak78

      This is what we have reduced ourselves to…defending twerking when there are a zillion things out of order in the black community. Words cannot express how sad this article makes me.

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        It was goofy but it was indeed sexual because they started grindin on
        each other. Besides, of all the cultural heritage we have why do we have
        to display ourselves as woman with no morals by shakking our asses like
        strippers??????? Shame on our woman for going with this public.

    • http://www.facebook.com/nikia.dshiznit Nikia D-Shiznit

      Nope. Choke no Joke. LOL

    • FABCEO29

      It must be. You damn right I will discipline my daughter if I caught her shaking her behind in front of a video camera for attention. There’s difference between dancing tastefully and beautiful African dances and downright nastiness. I cannot believe someone put sentences and paragraphs together to write an article defending young girls and women degrading themselves for attention. Charing needs to get her life…

    • mac

      right around ” twerking is a rightful
      dance and just as respectable as ballet, Latin, jazz or any other dance
      classified as legitimate art-forms”, I was praying that it was indeed a joke.

      Yes, Charing. Let’s even go as far as to say you can put “twerking” as a skill on a resume. Right?

      • Ladybug94

        Maybe it will even be featured on Dancing with the Stars.

    • Kenedy

      Arrrgh, and please don’t tell me she compared twerking to the traditional dances of my african people…..i know she did not

      • Anonymous

        You know what every damn time, I see a post on twerking and the author states it’s origins we get people who are Africa feigning insult that it dare to be likened to their dances. Here’s a fact for you, no i am not African, I am a Black USian. BUT my ancestors were African–west African and when they were brought here they kept what they could from their land, and passed the dances of their culture down. Obviously over some 500 years the tradition of the dance have changed to suit our lives here in the US. We lost the connection to Africa, but we kept the dances. We changed the music we do it to, and even the reasons we do it, but the dances our just as much a part of our history as they are yours. I’m tired of people from the continent claiming Black Americans do not have a culture and talking crap about us cause you need to feel better about yourselves.