This post is a candid response to the recent New York Times opinion article titled “Explaining Twerking To Your Parents”. In my opinion, somethings are better left unsaid, but if your mother or father just so happen to bring up this topic in conversation, here’s how you can completely avoid it:
By now, your mom and dad have probably already forgotten about the “historical”, yet awkward performance by former Disney Channel star Miley Cyrus last Sunday at the MTV Video Music Awards. But because mainstream media can’t seem to shake their new obsession with the dance craze known as “twerking”, they’re probably still hearing bits and pieces of the story floating around like a gnat at a barbecue. If your parents grooved in the 60 and 70’s, or popped-and-locked in the 80’s, and maybe even did “da dip” or the butterfly in the 90’s, then chances are they probably have an idea of these and other dances that comprise what we know today as twerking — and probably couldn’t careless about it. However, times have significantly changed since they were your age — but the rhyme and reason of appropriation still remain the same.
If you do find yourself chatting with Mom and Pops about this dance craze, don’t stress yourself to make it a deep philosophical discussion because it’s really quite simple: this is yet another “fad” that America is “tardy for the party” on, one that has actually been around for years and years. In fact, the art of this dance dates all the way back to tribes in Africa and countries in the West Indies, where women (and men) would do it as a means to celebrate freedom. While today the dance we know and love is connected to sex, promiscuity, hip hop and strip club culture, dancing back then was done with skill, precision, energy, and primarily used as a means of communication. I’m sure your parents haven’t forgotten, so there’s really no need to mention slavery and how even in bondage, Africans proudly claimed ownership of their traditions, heritage and culture through song and dance. As dance evolved and modernization took hold, well renowned dancers like Pearl Primus, Katherine Dunham, and Alvin Ailey continued to conceptualize the depth, beauty and rich ancestry of African dance for the American public to understand, although they were sometimes not recognized for their tireless efforts. It is because of the melodic sways of the waist, the powerful rolling of the hips and the rhythmic popping of the back by ancestors of yesteryear that has brought us to the point of “twerk” glorification.
But enough with the history lesson. Don’t bother mentioning to you parents that most (if not all) of these self-proclaimed “Twerk Team Captains” learned their “craft” from YouTube videos. Yes, The Official Twerk Team is a duo of African-American women (whose economic status we know nothing about by the way) that just so happen to have utilized an online platform to bring awareness to their entrepreneurial “talent” of gyration. From there though, there have been millions of videos made by men, women and children of ALL races and socioeconomic backgrounds to show off their “skills”. Clearly, these audiences have found enjoyment in shaking what their derrieres — and that’s fine! To each its own. You can’t blame a southern-fried girl like Miley for wanting to adapt to the black cultural experience; this state of “cool” has clearly been inundated in our multi-faceted, technologically advanced society way before she came up with the idea of bending over to the front and touching her toes. But you can totally forget about enlightening your parents on how charged some of these conversations around this incident have become in terms of race, sexism, feminism, culture, and economic status. That even in the year 2013 with the countless women across the world breaking barriers, and the many strides being made for women’s rights, it still doesn’t negate the fact that the value of the female body is still reduced to the size of her behind and how well she can make it clap.
That if we as a community don’t find some way to completely shy from “praising” this little white girl from Nashville, Tennessee and let her do whatever it is she thinks she needs to do for some coins, then there’s no way we can really begin to shift the image of objectification of people of color and women in this country via entertainment, music and other outlets.
At this point, you’re parents have probably nodded their head in agreement with you, in hopes to end this conversation and get back to reading a book on their Kindle, cooking dinner or watching the nightly news. Before you let them get back to real life, totally neglect the fact that before there was twerking there was juking, dubbing, popping, and grinding — all of which still place to this day. It’s totally unnecessary to go into absolute logistics of whether you participated in these dances as a youngster, so just remain as objective as possible. But as you walk back to the couch, let the simple thought slip your mind that within the next few months, this talk of “twerk” will be dead and gone, and Miley Cyrus dancing with over-sized teddy bears will be a distant memory. We’ll all wise up, realize that there are many more important things going on in the world, and get ready to begin our Christmas shopping.
Thoughts? Feel free to comment below or tweet me.