Last update: 12-Dec-2013 4:50 am
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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This thing called twerking
The word “twerk” has been added to the Oxford English Dictionary along with other words such as selfie, digital detox and bitcoin (all three are words related to popular social media-related culture).
Twerk, an African-American dance move, seems to be the most notorious addition due to recent association with pop singer Miley Cyrus. Although Cyrus has recently added twerking to her repertoire, the dance move is common in the US and many videos of people doing the dance can be seen on social media Web sites such as YouTube.
At the MTV Video Music Awards on August 25, Cyrus performed her song We Can’t Stop during which she “twerked” along with her backup dancers. The song and accompanying music video had already come under criticism in the US and the VMA performance caused even more controversy. Cyrus also twerks in the We Can’t Stop music video.
Oxford says twerk is a verb meaning “dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.”
In the US, some social commentators were upset by Cyrus’ performance. Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC said Cyrus was “obviously deeply troubled, deeply, disturbed, clearly has confidence issues, probably eating disorder…” on the Morning Joe Monday show. CNN digital correspondent Kelly Wallace, in an article on the new service’s Web site said she was glad her children were too young to know about Miley Cyrus.
Wallace’s article focused on comments from parents who were outraged by Cyrus’ performance. According to the article, many parents believe that Cyrus decision to “wear next to nothing and strut around the VMA stage is yet another example…of the sexualisation of our young girls.” Others said Cyrus had set “50 to 60 years of women’s forward progress back.”
However, some social commentators felt Cyrus was a victim of slut shaming—a form of social control that seeks to shame women for engaging in seemingly abnormal sexual behaviour. Washington Post columnist Clinton Yates said the focus on Cyrus was misguided.
“It seems that we still can’t handle what it’s like for a young woman to be able to perform, as she chooses, without layering in a heavy helping of insults as well. While Cyrus was condemned for grinding on (Robin) Thicke, very little criticism has been laid on the singer himself for his role in the performance. The nastiest of the comments have implied that Cyrus is somehow diseased because of her preferred dance methods,” he wrote in an article on the Washington Post Web site.
Cyrus has also come under criticism from the black community for what some are calling cultural appropriation of African American culture. Cultural appropriation is the adoption of specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group.
One blogger, Cate Young of Battymamzelle.blogspot.com, said Cyrus used black women as props during her performance and in her music video and reinforced racist stereotypes which defined black culture monolithically.
Dancer and choreographer, Makeda Thomas said the dance move has now become a big deal because of Cyrus’ wealth and race. In a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian, Thomas said the difference between twerking and wining was in the movement of the hips.
She added, however, that wining also entails a larger social and historical context that twerking is not associated with.
The problem with Cyrus’ performance of twerking was related to larger issues of class and race.
“I think the issues surrounding it are about who is doing it. So the difference between Miley doing it and a girl by the side of the road in Curepe goes back to about age old ideas about access to bodies and the ability of those bodies to move that have to do with hypersexualisation,” she said.
Thomas added: “She can do it and it just looks like fun and it doesn’t have to become who she is or get wrapped up in the politics of her identity. Someone who is wealthy can do it and escape from everything that it suggests about ignorance, oversexualisation or savageness while someone on the lower end gets wrapped up in all of that. It’s a way to further marginalise people in those positions.”
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