Yikes! Just when you thought you had safely come to terms with Twitter, tweets and tweeting, let alone LinkedIn, Instagram, and seemingly hundreds of other digital headaches, here comes another one straight down the YouTube downloads, called Twerking.
You’d already known you couldn’t keep up with all the changes going around–heck, you’re still trying to figure out all the apps and tricks your “old school” phone can do, and have not the faintest idea what the new iPhone and Galaxy 4 commercials are talking about. You can barely take good photos and videos and post them to friends without some screw-up or challenge getting in your way.
So, imagine the surprise called twerking, which my club-savvy daughter just asked me where’d I heard about that from, as if it’s a secret. It’s really only a dance, not a new digital language. Shaking your butt in rhythm to music, actually. “Looking like ‘doin’ the nasty’ standing up,” some parents say as they try to prohibit their young daughters from exhibiting themselves.
Actually, as my daughter informed me, twerking isn’t new at all. “It’s the rhythmic dancing from Africa, Cuba and the Caribbean that White people just discovered and renamed. We’ve been doing it for quite a while. Even “dropping it like it’s hot” is just a variation of “shake it and spank it.”
The thing is, Miley Cyrus, the Pop star, just did a YouTube visual of twerking, with a hoodie on until the end of the video, and the video has gone viral. The name itself came from a line in a Waka Flocka Flame rap that promoted the Twerking Girls from Atlanta, who’ve formed a little group that has produced several YouTube visuals on the dance.
Two things: not only is my daughter correct that the dance is not new, just renamed, it is a current occurrence among millennials to do that. The old Harlem Shake was recently re-invented or at least, re-named, by a White man, D.J. Baauer, as the spastic-looking dance now being promoted as the main group party fun for the Spring Break and Las Vegas crowd. It’s not the same dance as the original Harlem Shake or Harlem Shuffle, but by re-naming and re-inventing it, it is now brand-new and ready for this generation’s branding and enjoyment of it.
Black culture goes global and gets legitimized by being “discovered” by Whites. Does this sound like a repeat of something?
The second point is that twerking is called punta in the Afro-African sections of Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua and many other places, and has been skillfully done as part of Garifuna culture for quite a long time. The Garifuna are the Black independent cultural group that is the dominant population in non-Kriol Central America and parts of the Caribbean. They say they have never been enslaved and their culture is their own, and not hybridized by others.
Punta is an art form taught to girls and boys as an apt demonstration of Garifuna rhythm. The hip-shaking is ferocious and awe-inspiring when they do it, and actually what we call twerking is a pale imitation of it.
Black dance becoming popular and global is no new thing either. Even before YouTube videos and digital downloads, Black community dances regularly became American and European popular dances.
Remember the Charleston? The Lindy Hop? The Twist? Harlem Shuffle? The Jerk? The Mashed Potatoes? What about Rufus Thomas’ “The Dog” and George Clinton’s re-invention of it, “The Atomic Dog?”
Black cultural components have a history of being co-opted into famous songs, styles and dances that everybody else benefits, even profits from, while the originators are barely acknowledged.
So, twerk away, ya’ll. It’s not scary, but it sure enough is funky. And that’s OK, as long as we know what’s up.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
DISCLAIMER: The beliefs and viewpoints expressed in opinion pieces, letters to the editor, by columnists and/or contributing writers are not necessarily those of OurWeekly.