What is twerking?
The rhythmic gyration, popping, rolling, whining of the hips can be found throughout history used in ceremonies, celebrations, recreation, and entertainment. I am an avid twerker. I used to pop my hips and tootsie roll in the 90s and early 2000s; and later began to perfect my Jamaican whining and twerking in my late teens and early 20s. I often refer to my practice of twerking as a form of therapy during my matriculation through my PhD program. When Megan Thee Stallion said, “But it’s 2020, I ain’t finna argue ‘bout twerking,” I felt this statement so deeply. In 2020, a video was released of a Black male restaurant owner in Dallas yelling at a group of Black women patrons in disapproval of them twerking to the rap music being played by the restaurant’s DJ. I participated in various conversations online and in-person reflecting on this incident. There were both men and women who agreed with the way in which the restaurant owner addressed the young women. Unfortunately, the policing of Black women’s bodies is an archaic tradition that continues in many forms. “My Body, My Choice” is a concept that extends beyond choices being made around reproductive health for women and people who can birth children. As a business owner, one has the right to deny service or remove patrons from their business but swearing at customers and telling them you do not need their money is excessive.
How can twerking be used as a healing praxis?
When I am twerking and moving my body to some of my favorite R&B, Hip-Hop, and Dancehall songs, I am able to be present in my body allowing my hips, feet, and arms freely catch the beat. The hips are associated with the sacral chakra. According to Hindu Tantrism, chakras refer to energy points in the body. It is believed that emotions are associated with the corresponding organs and parts of the body as the chakras. The sacral chakra is associated with passion, sensation, feelings, emotions, intimacy, movement, and creativity. I practiced professionally as a bodyworker and reiki practitioner for 7 years where I learned how emotions and mental health can physically manifest within your body. I center my work on the sexual liberation of Black women. In my dissertation, A Real Hot Girl Movement: A Social History of Pleasure Activism,” I defined sexual liberation as one’s access to bodily autonomy (control of one’s body), freedom of sexual expression (sexual agency), and sexual pleasure. There are scholars, practitioners, and activists doing work on celebrating and supporting women on being able to express themselves without shame and judgment. A sistahfriend in scholarship, Dr. Michelle Meggs speaks on ratchet womanism which encourages Black women, girls, and femmes to love themselves because in doing so they pose a threat to heteropatriarchy, misogyny, misogynoir, and white supremacist structures because of their beauty, intellect, and fortitude. We receive many direct and indirect messages around sexuality, our bodies, and pleasure from experiences during childhood and as adults. I often challenge others to reflect on how messages and experiences have influenced the ways in which we address topics relating to sexuality, our bodies, and pleasure.
When someone is twerking or expressing themselves with movements, clothing, or other ways, it is important to avoid placing judgment or defining their purpose. Megan Thee Stallion or Lizzo may not be your artist of choice to twerk, pop, bounce, or slide to. Find an artist or genre of music that inspires you to unapologetically move your body to assist you in your healing journey. If you require guidance on movement techniques, consider looking up classes in your area that focus on twerking, hip-opening exercises, and other forms of liberating movement. If you are in Atlanta, I highly recommend you register for a class at Soulaira Studios located in Mableton where you can find classes in a Black women-owned space that centers the holistic wellness, fitness, and healing of Black women. It is important for Black women to advocate for ourselves and each other in all forms to reject silencing, disrespect, and marginalization of Black women and girls’ experiences and provide safe spaces to embrace their ways of being.
Dr. Clarissa Francis is a Hot Girl Movement scholar-activist and AASECT certified sexuality educator who focuses her work primarily on Black women’s sexual liberation. She currently teaches college courses on race, gender, and sexuality and continues to develop safe spaces for Black women and marginalized groups to participate in unrestricted dialogue, unpacking intergenerational trauma, and sexual healing.
brown, a. m. (2019). Pleasure Activism: The politics of feeling good. AK Press.
Francis, C. E. (2021). A Real Hot Girl Movement: A Social History of Pleasure Activism in Atlanta, Georgia [Doctoral dissertation, California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
Halliday, Aria. (2020). Twerk sumn!: Theorizing Black girl epistemology in the body. Cultural Studies 34, no. 6 (2020) : 874-891.
Meggs, Michelle. “Is There Room for the Ratchet in the Beloved Community?: If You’re Not Liberating Everyone, Are You Really Talking about Freedom,” in Womanist Ethical Rhetoric: A Call for Liberation and Social Justice in Turbulent Times ed. Annette D. Matlock and Cerise L. Glenn, 63-76. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2021.
Meggs, Michelle and Francis, Clarissa (2022). “Bounce Dat Azz”: Reclaiming the Politics of Pleasure for Black Women, Girls, and Femmes.” SEWSA 2022 Love, Sex, and Justice in the South
Morgan, Joan. Why We Get Off: Moving Towards a Black Feminist Politics of Pleasure, The Black Scholar, Journal of Black Studies and Research 45, no.4 (2015):36-46.