We spoke to a twerking expert about twerking
It’s hard to believe but twerking wasn’t invented by Miley Cyrus at the VMAs this week. It’s been around for more than a decade and you’re probably doing it wrong, a Melbourne twerking expert tells LACHLAN KANONIUK.
It’s the word that exploded from dancers’ hips to everybody’s lips this week. The greatest voice in the world is talking about it. Australian politicians are doing it (they really shouldn’t be), and hard rock acts are banning it. So what exactly is twerking? It’s been around for decades, so why is the world catching on now? To get the facts, we attained the expert (twerkspert? extwerk?) opinion of Dayani Wijeyewardene, owner of the increasingly popular Melbourne dance class Twerkshop.
Dayani’s entry point into twerking was her discovery of southern hip-hop in the early 2000s. “Twerking has been a big thing for over a decade, being a big part of southern hip-hop, then Miami bass-and-bounce music. With all of that, it’s very much a culture,” she says. “I remember watching film clips like Juvenile’s ‘Back That Ass Up’. I’ve always been aware of it, but it was a few years ago when a mate from the States said ‘Yo, watch this. This is talent.’ That’s when I became aware of the phrase ‘twerking’.”
What is twerking?
Twerking is a type of dance that involves using your hips to move your ass up-and-down. That’s a very basic description, though. It takes a lot more than just that movement. The dancer needs to have enough rhythm so the hip movement forces the ass cheeks in a circular motion (fast twerking) or making it jiggle when it hits up or down (slow twerking). Alternatively, it could be ass cheek isolations, which involves moving each cheek independently of the other.
Is twerking dead now?
No, not at all. It’s a funny question. It’s been around for so long that this fad is going to come and go, but it will still be as strong as it was. It’s just that people will know what it is. It’s part of a culture. Unless you fade out dancing in the southern hip hop community – which isn’t possible – then it’s never going to die. When you’re a part of a niche, you’re not really aware of something like that. I’ve always listened to hip-hop and trap, I’ve danced my whole life, so it never seemed like a big thing. But at the same time, people aren’t talking about what twerking is. They’re talking about a white girl who is twerking to pop songs. So she’s turned it more into a style of dance, when it’s more about the culture.
(Source: MTV Tumblr)
Is Miley Cyrus bad for twerking?
I found out about this Miley stuff way later, it wasn’t really a blip on my radar. At first, I thought it was really funny and really cool. The thing I like about Miley doing it is that it makes it much more accessible. When we started Twerkshop it was an all-girl thing, but twerking is a big thing in the gay community so we’ve now opened up to guys too. It’s something for everyone. It’s not “ghetto”, it’s about fun and expressing yourself and feeling good. Having a white pop singer with a country singer dad, it opens up a huge demographic that would have never known about something like that. It shows how much more progressive society is, that this has become a fun thing and a thing that you want to be a part of.
Why is it so shocking to some people?
I think it’s indicative of society … It’s kind of like pole dancing. Before, it would have been a case of “You pole dance? That’s not cool, you’re clearly this type of person.” Now it’s more a case of, “You pole dance? You must have a really strong upper body.” That’s the way I look at twerking. It comes down to what you wear, what you try to get out of twerking. If you’re having a good time listening to a song, then get down and twerk. Make that ass clap. If anyone took it the other way, it says more about them and their outlook on society and their narrow mindedness. I bet the people making fun of them couldn’t sit in a static squat for 20 seconds, let alone shake your ass at the same time.
Is it cultural appropriation?
I think that’s going to come along with anything that starts from a culture. You still have that in hip-hop, you could even go as far back and say that about jazz music. It’s a hard question. When you’re dealing with stereotypes and race, that’s something more than twerking. I think people should be looking more at the feminist side of it and the progression of society.
What about the feminist aspect?
I went to an all-girl private school and never felt good about my body, I always wanted to be skinnier. Now we have girls coming to class sounding upset when they say, “I can’t do it because my ass is too tight.” It’s an environment where you can feel comfortable exercising and dancing. We have a few girls from high school, and they’re the ones we want to come along the most. They’re the ones most vulnerable in terms of body image. Twerking is funny, as long as you’re in a room of great supporting women and guys, then it’s the best environment to be safe and confident with yourself.