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The History of Twerk: The Dance Between Twerking and the Media

Twerking... It seems to be all over the media as of the past few months, mainly because Miley Cyrus has “brought it so much mainstream attention.” I put it in quotes because if you were paying even the slightest bit of attention to American pop culture since the early 90’s you’d know that this ain’t nothin’ new. We saw the beginnings of “twerking” in 1992 with “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot, before that with “Pop That Coochie” by the 2 Live Crew in 1991, and even before that with “Da Butt” by Experience Unlimited in 1988. Then there was The Jitterbug in the 1920’s with all those twirling skirts (Too throwback for you?)

Where I’m from (New Orleans), “twerking” was always called popping.. Which is short for P-popping.. Which is short for... Well I’m sure you get the idea. It’s a dance that’s typically done to high tempo snare driven music (usually between 95-105 bpm if you’re a music buff) that, where I’m from, is called bounce (which has its origins in the late 80’s). If you want to hear some of the origins of the music you can search YouTube for DJ Jubilee, Partners N Crime, or The Showboys (Triggaman), but for the sake of this piece I’m gonna focus on the dance between Twerking and the Mainstream Media.

P-popping as it’s seen today had it’s first real mainstream exposure in 1999 with the song “Back That Thang Up” from New Orleans native Juvenile. The video (which was aired regularly on MTV, VH1, The Box, etc.) featured females twerking on stage at an outdoor concert. Keep in mind, this was nearly 15 years ago. Fast forward to 2003 with the song “Crazy in Love” by Beyonce. This is Beyonce we’re talking about. It doesn’t get any more mainstream than that. This video features Beyonce “twerking” to the “Uh-oh” chants in the background of the song. How does the media respond? They call it the Beyonce dance while watching in awe. And of course since Beyonce did it, people want to learn how to do it too. So they go on YouTube and come across some videos from a new (more hardcore) generation of Bounce.

Now by this time it’s already a well known dance in the urban community. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s sexy and it’s fun. Women love doing it and men love watching women do it. By this time it has even been given a “cleaner” name based a song that was popular in urban culture by the Ying Yang Twins. This song was called “Whistle While You Twurk.” It even generated a number of dance groups that call themselves Twerk Teams. It can be argued about whether it’s not classy to do in public, or if a person has the freedom of expression to twerk as they feel, or if it’s appropriate for a minor among other things but even at this point in time, there hasn’t been as much controversy surrounding the dance.

Fast forward to the 2013 Video Music Awards show. A singer, who is also a grown woman of 20 years old at the time, decides to publicly participate in a dance that has been praised in the urban community before, and she gets criticized beyond compare. The reason? Because she “brought twerking to mainstream America”? Maybe it goes deeper than that. Maybe it’s because she’s a white woman dancing an urban dance on stage with black men. Maybe it’s because it’s being brought to the attention of white mothers and fathers that their daughters could (and do) take part in something so “urban” and “sexual,” ignoring the fact that Lady Gaga, another female singer’s performance at the same VMA’s was even more exposing and sexualized but not urban.

Maybe it’s Miley’s new friend Molly (which is drug use if you’re not familiar with the term) that mainstream America doesn’t approve of, ignoring the fact that Rihanna has been spreading her “bad girl” wings for years now to less criticism from the media (with the exception of when she went back to Chris Brown). Either way, we find ourselves today giving so much thought and discussion to this one girl for doing what is typical (not necessarily good or bad) behavior of someone her age. So why is she getting all the criticism? Is she getting the raw end of the deal? Do you think she’s being criticized too harshly? Do you think she has a responsibility to her younger fans to tame her behavior? I wanna know your thoughts on it. Let me know in the comments below!

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