At age 14, I loved dirty dancing. We called it booty shaking back then. But I weighed less than 100 lbs and not much was shaking on me but bones.
I would watch my summer camp friends dance while, in the corner, I twitched in a pattern that imitated rhythm to stay unnoticed. The girls practiced in groups the sexy moves I attempted behind locked doors and they were convincing at it. All smooth curves and dips.
Back home, I lacked the examples to learn from and the crew to break it down. But I couldn’t get kudos plastered against the wall, so I joined their dance sessions for brownie points.
One evening, we turned on girl group Xscape and booty shook, hip rolled, wined, and pelvic-ground ourselves into giggles and “ooh, get it girl” cheers. My toes gripped the shag carpet nervously as I watched, half-hoping they wouldn’t call me up.
“Dara, it’s your turn,” one girl encouraged.
“Yeah, go, go!”
And so I went. Hands gripping my knees, I did the pop-lock-Tootsie-Roll-robot. Spurred by the obligatory “Gone, girl,” I dropped into unfamiliar territory and took it to the ground. Grinding hip against floor, I tried not to look at the girls’ faces for approval.
This type of dance was a both a spectator sport and a personal art; you had to own your zone, delve so intently into the imaginary boy you danced with that your face set with hard concentration. Oh, I was working that floor, almost feeling confident, when the door opened and our group leader stepped into the room.
My pelvis froze, as did my face, hips, knees, and then unfroze as I scrambled up, pulling my pajama shirt down my legs. I locked my hands behind my back, apple-cheeked while the other girls struggled with warring smiles on their faces.
That was the last time I twerked in public.
This is the part where I don’t mention Miley Cyrus aping black culture.
Miley’s name is currently infamous due to her version of the skinny twerk. Her crime was not in appropriating blackness; no, no, Miley simply was not convincing enough. She did not own any zone. Her very butt cheeks sought escape from the pleather sausage casing she squeezed into.
But who owns twerking? A panel of experts convened on my Facebook page and determined that the requirement is 53% donk, 37% skill, and 10% African juju. (See: Ciara, who narrowly misses twerking by a 6% margin of no body fat.) Skinny girls of any race, per the respondents, need not rattle their bones in attempt. Clearly, Miley is lacking in all three categories, therefore she pulled off more jerk than twerk.
The formula also excludes me, as I am poor of donk, bereft of skill, and possess, at best, 2% African juju to allocate toward twerking. But I am not too old to remember the glee of making your body jump to a throbbing bass line. In respect for humankind, I have relegated my b-side (backside) antics to my living room, where only my Mini Schnauzer can howl his offense.
I suggest Miley do the same.
Can we agree that twerk is a dumb word? How do you feel about it?