In San Diego, a group of 33 high school students from Scripps Ranch High School has been suspended due to the usage of school property to shoot and edit a video that shows students "twerking." The students signed a contract indicating that no school property would be used to distribute sexual or offensive material. The students have been prohibited from walking at graduation and attending prom, and were suspended for an entire week.
Watch the video below:
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The video was edited in school computers and then uploaded to YouTube (as most things on a camera these days are). In news footage, high school students are questioned about twerking, whether they know what it is, and whether they have seen the video. Everyone, according to one student, has seen it now.
Twerking, according to Urban Dictionary .... well, actually, never mind. The user-produced definitions are racist, sexist and contain slut-shaming language. The real definition lies somewhere along the lines of "dirty dancing." Therein lies the issue at hand: Can twerking ever be considered a cultural dance form that is understood not by its hypersexualization, but by the sheer skill of its incredible feats of booty shaking?
Twerking emerged on the scene with a splashy music video called "Express Yourself" by Diplo featuring Nicki Da B. Big Freedia's (the Twerking Saint of Latter Days) has continued to popularize the genre, making 'backup twerking dancer' a career aspiration for this author's unemployed college friends. There is no guarantee that this or any other catchy song will get your booty poppin', or that you would ever be able to actually do it right. What seems almost guaranteed is that twerking, a dance form derived from New Orleans Bounce music (a cultural form that's been popular in the underground scene since the 1990s), is here to stay.
The discussion of the cultural and racial politics of twerking are many and involve understanding the role that the male gaze has on twerking, the cooptation of this African American dance form by a white majority, and the emergence of 'socially conscious' twerking.
According to one blogger:
"Now, to return to the 'why is twerking seen as vulgar' question, the answer is two fold: in a sense, whiteness has positioned black women's bodies as objects of consumption, both sexually and materially, which means that any aesthetic form connected to the black body has a thorough sexual connotation through the gaze of whiteness. Second, black culture has internalized the 'white gaze' which hypersexualizes black women and their bodily practices by extension. However, the hypersexualization has become self-sustaining and is thus out of the hands of whiteness: this changes the cultural context of twerking and presents it as something intrinsically sexual even within the African-American community."
Whether you agree with this argument applied to the issue of vulgarity in twerking or not, the question still remains: Should students have received such a harsh punishment for enacting a popular dance form? According to many of the comments, most adults seem invested on punishing students for breaking the contract, while another claimed they deserved it for "acting like tramps on camera."
Making twerking a dichotomy between the "good girls" and the "slutty girls" strips this dance form of the empowerment that some may feel at accomplishing the sheer physical feats involved in these dances. As opposed to grinding, the ubiquitous dance form at most parties generally involving two participants, twerking may not necessarily be an act performed for the opposite gender.
If I could twerk (which I can't), I would do it to liberate myself by taking on the challenge involved in performing a handstand, shaking my butt, and not falling flat on my face in the process.