After Miley Cyrus performed a VMA "twerk" that was to the real street version what skim milk is to an ice cream sundae, people have taken to what we can call danthropology, seeking the origin of twerking, which, like many adult crazes, has infiltrated the kid community.
While most believe the dance began in the 1980s, they should be looking at Josephine Baker wearing bananas at the Folies Bergère in 1925 and African birds instead.
The top comment on most of Baker’s YouTube Banana Dance videos, where she famously wore nothing but a string of bananas around her waist, is “She invented twerking!”
American audiences have had their share of forbidden dances, like the lambada. However, those dances took two while the twerk is a spectator’s sport.
Twerking has become so viral it has seeped into the kid community and has become a frequent feature in little girls’ dance routines and competitions.
Here in Norfolk, Va., you can come on over to the community center and see 6-year-olds bouncing their bums and laughing hysterically when adults come racing in to try to stop them.
I know this because I volunteer at the community center teaching chess during the summer camp. Early in the season I played some Kidz Bop, a compilation of kid-friendly versions of popular songs, and stood there amazed when the room erupted into a teeny, tiny twerkfest. It was both adorable and horrible. That was hard to explain to anyone passing the room, which has glass walls!
Whether you believe twerking began with Baker in Paris, 2LiveCrew or DJ Jubilee in New Orleans in 2006, like many dance crazes, the twerk originated in the African-American community, only to become less fluid in the cross-over to other cultures.
Although it seems more likely for a danthropologist to suggest it came from tribal dances like West African dances, most notably mapouka, from the Ivory Coast, known as “la dance du fessier,” or “dance of the behind.”
Perhaps twerking did come from Africa itself, not from people, but birds. The Bird of Paradise, peacocks, and other male birds shake their tail feathers to attract a mate.
The real challenge for us as parents is to know when to encourage our kids to dance their hearts out and when to keep their groove things in check.
In the case of my youngest son, I let him dance all over the house in any way he likes. However, we have a strict bottom line when dancing at school, the community center, and parties.
The way to enforce the rule is to tell the kids that they shouldn’t perform any move they don’t want to see their mom doing in front of their friends. It’s a deterrent that works every time because they know Mom is just crazy enough to do it.