The Origins of Twerking: What It Is, What It Means, and How It Got Appropriated

Twerking, black culture, opinion

“Twerking” isn’t new. Its ubiquity may seem sudden, but mainstream media’s merely catching up to something that’s existed in black global culture for years.

CHRISTIANA-MBAKWE | XOJane

I’ve seen variants of twerking my entire life. I remember watching the elderly women dance at the predominantly West African church I attended growing up. If the right “praise” song was sung, they’d grab a white handkerchief and dance their way to the front of the church. They’d rotate their hips and bounce their bums until they were barely above the ground.

In essence, their core movement was the same as twerking — all in the ass and hips. It’s rhythmic and complex, the footwork’s intricate and even though the body is blending different rhythms, it all manages to flow like water.

The roots of twerking are rich. Variants of the dance exist in most places where there’s a high concentration of people of African descent. Its current iteration is commonly associated with the New Orleans bounce scene, however growing up in London I immediately associate it with the Dancehall scene.

If people took the time to explore the root of what’s been dubbed as the “twerk,” they’d realise its origins lie in West Africa. It’s strikingly similar to the Mapouka dance from Côte d’Ivoire, a dance done by women that focuses on the buttocks. It’s existed for centuries.

I’ve seen variants of twerking my entire life. I remember watching the elderly women dance at the predominantly West African church I attended growing up. If the right “praise” song was sung, they’d grab a white handkerchief and dance their way to the front of the church. They’d rotate their hips and bounce their bums until they were barely above the ground.

In essence, their core movement was the same as twerking — all in the ass and hips. It’s rhythmic and complex, the footwork’s intricate and even though the body is blending different rhythms, it all manages to flow like water.

The roots of twerking are rich. Variants of the dance exist in most places where there’s a high concentration of people of African descent. Its current iteration is commonly associated with the New Orleans bounce scene, however growing up in London I immediately associate it with the Dancehall scene.

If people took the time to explore the root of what’s been dubbed as the “twerk,” they’d realise its origins lie in West Africa. It’s strikingly similar to the Mapouka dance from Côte d’Ivoire, a dance done by women that focuses on the buttocks. It’s existed for centuries.

I’ve seen variants of twerking my entire life. I remember watching the elderly women dance at the predominantly West African church I attended growing up. If the right “praise” song was sung, they’d grab a white handkerchief and dance their way to the front of the church. They’d rotate their hips and bounce their bums until they were barely above the ground.

In essence, their core movement was the same as twerking — all in the ass and hips. It’s rhythmic and complex, the footwork’s intricate and even though the body is blending different rhythms, it all manages to flow like water.

The roots of twerking are rich. Variants of the dance exist in most places where there’s a high concentration of people of African descent. Its current iteration is commonly associated with the New Orleans bounce scene, however growing up in London I immediately associate it with the Dancehall scene.

If people took the time to explore the root of what’s been dubbed as the “twerk,” they’d realise its origins lie in West Africa. It’s strikingly similar to the Mapouka dance from Côte d’Ivoire, a dance done by women that focuses on the buttocks. It’s existed for centuries.

Wealth and privilege also mean Miley can misappropriate a tiny element of the black cultural experience for profit and shock value, while the originators get none of the credit or capital. She’s not the first and won’t be the last. Is this to say that Miley is trying to be black? Of course not. A construct as complex as blackness cannot be compressed into a dance move, attire and acts of rebellion. To say such would be myopic.

It’s impossible to “become black” via behaviour and if there were some procedure to become black, I’m sure Miley wouldn’t undergo it. That would mean she’d be exposed to the systemic prejudice that comes with being black — that’s too cumbersome and no fun. Instead Miley picks the parts of black culture that suit her agenda and tickle her taste buds.

Eventually, she’ll get bored.

That’s how brief periods of fascination with exotic things work. They’re exploited for profit, social clout and cool factor, then discarded. A bit like that time when people wore bindis as a fashion statement. That Chinese calligraphy tattoo on your lower back that you’re embarrassed to show now. All those Asian-inspired clothes from the 90s that you donated to your local thrift store. When all is said and done, the media will get tired and people will grow bored.

But before you get tired of twerking or whatever the newest ethnic inspired fad is, trace its roots. Find out what it truly means to people and how it evolved. Respect the rich cultural heritage it draws from, and remember the people who kept it alive long before it was trendy.

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