Twerking has taken the world by storm with confused teenage girls trying to shed off their Disney image and ratchet rappers giving away college scholarships to the best ‘twerker’. The word has even made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary! A trend that originated from two women known as the ‘Twerk Team’ who posted up videos on Youtube that consists of them shaking their butts and gyrating their hips in a complex manner that can only be described as an art. Yes, an art. Whatever one’s opinion on twerking, it can be agreed that not everyone can twerk even if you are black and/or have a big butt.
Much like ballet or Latin, twerking requires a certain coordination and muscle control. Butt popping while squatting, making each butt cheek shake on its own and shaking your ass while standing on your hands at the same damn time would make even a Russian gymnast stare in awe. Yet it has been vilified and denounced as degrading; a dance that serves only to objectify and sexualise women. However, when Miley Cyrus posted up a video of herself twerking (that’s if you can call it that), it was all of a sudden seen as cute and adorable, and received rather positively until she took it to another level of awkward and embarrassing during her VMA performance not so long ago. So why the double standards when it comes to twerking? Is it really as degrading as people perpetuate it to be?
Twerking is seen as not respectable and tasteless but one has to ask the question: Who exactly defines what is respectable and what isn’t? Twerking isn’t a new dance. It in fact has been around for hundreds of years just in different variations. Twerking stems from booty dancing and booting dancing originated from Africa and spread through the African diaspora, from a dance called the Mapouka in the Ivory Coast to the Soukous in the Congo, across to dancehall dances in Jamaica. Whether it was to praise the ancestors or to express emotions, booty dancing has been an integral part of African culture yet when black women decide to shake their God-given booties they are called out as hyper-sexualised and lascivious.
Booty dancing doesn’t fit the white patriarchal constructs of decency and respectability that we’ve been forced to accept and so, when a black woman decides to shake her bum, she makes the society we live in uncomfortable and is described as depraved and crude. Yet when Disney’s Hannah Montana decided to twerk she was praised for her efforts no matter how ridiculous she looked doing it. But to talk about the objectification of black women that took place in her VMA performance and in her “We Can’t Stop” music video, her white privilege of being able to appropriate a part of black urban culture and make heaps of money and gain loads of publicity is a topic for another day.
Let’s talk about the men who seem to think that women twerk to turn them on. What about the women who just twerk ALONE in front of their mirrors in the comfort of their own homes? Or who twerk for exercise? Or because they are just happy? Or who just love the way their bodies move when they twerk? Perhaps some men should stop thinking that a woman’s sole reason for twerking is to give them a hard on even if she is twerking all over the dance floor in the club, handstands and all. She might just be twerking for the pure enjoyment of being able to twerk because not everybody can do it and simply put, it’s just some good ol’ fun. She might just be twerking to assert her own sexuality and reclaim power and acceptance of her body because she lives in a society that shames a woman who expresses her sexuality with candour and tries to control her body. People need to realise that a woman’s body belongs to her. She can do with it whatever she pleases. Not everything a woman does, even if it does look sexual, is for the benefit of men. A woman can enjoy her body by herself. Some men need to realise that they do not own a woman’s body. It is hers and hers alone.
Throughout history black women have had little agency over their bodies, from white slave-masters raping black female slaves whenever they pleased because they were just seen as property to women like Sarah Bartmann being abducted from her home and paraded all over Europe as a freak show because of her really big bum and very small waist. Twerking allows black women to finally deal with their bodies on their own terms. It allows them to challenge the politics of respectability that have been forced upon them. People worry about the sexual exploitation of women who twerk wearing next to nothing in hip-hop videos but that’s nothing compared to the exploitation women face when they are denied outright the freedom to express how they want to view their own bodies.
Yes, there is a difference between twerking for sexual attention and twerking for expression of self and yes it can be the case that a woman twerks just for the benefit of a man but this is not the case all of the time. Twerking can and should be viewed as a legitimate art form. There shouldn’t be a fuss over Juicy J’s ‘twerking’ scholarship for a woman to be able to go to university if there are ballet and contemporary dance scholarships in existence. There shouldn’t be a hoorah over women who get paid to twerk if dancing in general is seen as a profession that one can turn into their livelihood. Twerking can be sexual but so can many other dances like Latino which consists of a whole lot butt-grabbing and grinding, yet it is seen as respectable dance form with many competitions held around the world for it.
Not everyone has to like twerking but it is time to stop wrongfully judging it and the people who enjoy doing it. It is important to consider the image a person is trying to portray when twerking, but to just box everyone as whores, sluts or bitches is narrow-minded and insular. There are numerous reasons why a woman would twerk and giving a guy a boner might not be one of them. Twerking as dance form should be treated with respect. The physical endurance and flexibility alone needed to twerk is enough reason for this. But more importantly, to twerk is to show your middle finger to the people who say that it is indecent because it doesn’t fit their definition of decency or respectability, and to pay homage to the women who started booty-dancing thousands of years ago to celebrate their sexuality and liberate themselves through the art of their dance. So if it makes you feel good, celebrates who you are and you enjoy doing it. Twerk ladies, twerk.
Written By: Nomusa Mthetwa (@NomusaMT)