Discourse on Twerking- Africa and the Rest of the World before Miley Cyrus

I am a dancer. I love to dance and welcome all styles of dance. The process of choreography is a work of art. The expression of dance as a free form is also beautiful. Whether within the boundaries of technique or expressed through free movement I feel like the winds have carried me to a realm beyond what is present when I dance and/or observe it in motion.  Self-expression through dance for me is ecstasy.

The topic of twerking has been a subject of conversation amongst those well-versed in American pop culture. The beautiful, Disney-like Miley Cyrus seems to be experiencing a type of delayed teenage rebellion and is staging her about-face for the whole world to see. Besides making out with Barbie, licking sledge hammers and other weird antics in her music videos, “We Can’t Stop” shows Miley, several black women and a few strange teddy bears gyrating their butts to the beat of the music. Thus twerking was born.

dancer twerking on Work by Iggy Azalea

Or was it? Across the Continent of Africa there are numerous traditional dances where the focal points are the waist and but movement. The rhythmic, gyrating of a woman’s lower waist to the beat of a drum is a cultural expression of fertility, culture and celebration that existed before Miley Cyrus. Though the dances and the purpose of these lower-waist movements vary from culture to culture, gyrating or ‘twerking’ is common to Africans and Afro-Caribbean peoples all over the world.

gyrating to an african beat
gyrating to an african beat
waist shaking as an african delight
waist shaking as an african delight

There has never been an outcry for Africans to stop gyrating their waists for fear of corrupting the word’s youth.  These dances were, and in some communities still are an integral part of community life. Culture is sacred. Life is sacred. Celebrations and cultural festivals are sacred. This was the heart of the matter.  So what’s the deal with twerking?

one of konshens’ dancers on Walk and Whine twerking

For me there is no ‘dirty dancing’ vs ‘clean dancing’. The audience may respond differently to various types of choreography but as an artist I realize that the viewers will derive their own interpretation of the artistic forms that they experience.  Art itself leaves the interpretation up to the viewer.  

                 Twerking has left a bitter taste in our mouths not entirely because of the movement itself but because of what came with it-the loss of Hollywood’s ‘nice girl’ to a sledge-hammer licking, drug addicted, naked ball-swinging monster.

I grew up dancing in church. We wore long, white robes and danced with our upper body most of the time. Waists remained silently still. Hands waving in circular praise movements and bowing in prayer posture were frequent elements of the choreography. This type of dance was considered to be ‘clean dancing’. 

I remember when I returned from college after training for a couple years with professional dancers.  I did many leaps, jumps and turns in my choreography during my performance. I was happy. My heart felt golden. Until I watched the programme air on TV and saw that the editor had flashed out all of my leaps and jumps. The reason? I lifted my leg in church. How undignified.

The clear cut lines between the secular and the sacred are not as clearly defined in life and in artistic expression as we would like to believe. Sacred is the heart of the person. Sacred is authenticity of a heart that respects the counsel of their elders, feels the love of their friends and endeavors to do good to all humanity. Sacred is the person who feeds the needy, continues to learn and grow and is able to say, “I’m sorry” from a genuine heart.

 After Miley disappears from the world’s stage and everyone has forgotten about the strange teddy bears, women will continue to dance with their lower waists to the beat of a drum somewhere in the world as they have done for millennia. Life is dance. All life is beautiful. Dance is transcendent. Before Miley there was twerking.

I have a few videos attached to help you visualize my concept.

Miley- “We Can’t Stop”

Traditional African dances. The Origin of twerking?

Ivory Coast






3 thoughts on “Discourse on Twerking- Africa and the Rest of the World before Miley Cyrus

  1. Joanne, thank you for enlightening us westerners with this understanding. I truly appreciate your anthropological and cultural approach that causes One to embrace their whole self and question their “influenced” reality…your insight and ability to script is truly a treasure…please keep posting!

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