There’s never been a shortage of fad group fitness trends—from TaeBo to Zumba to pole dancing, and everything in between. A newer fad, though, is one you may want to think twice about: twerking, which has evolved from its African roots into a growing exercise craze. And, unfortunately, the further into mainstream the dance style goes, the more it risks perpetuating a history of appropriating Black culture and earning cringes and side-eyes from sympathetic friends. To stop the cycle (or at least be more aware), you may want to take a few extra steps before paying to twerk it out in a virtual fitness class.
Know a little about what you’re doing
Popular dances often have histories that are lost along the way before becoming a mainstream trend. Twerking is one of them, deriving from West African dance where the small, isolated movements from the hips in a squatting position were often used as a celebratory dance. Once “Bounce” music became popular in New Orleans and artist Big Freida used twerking in their videos, the more modernized version of the dance began to form in the U.S. Simultaneously, Harlem twerk teams started releasing some amazingly skillful twerk videos, and eventually we got to where we are today.
Remember how to recognize appropriation
Cultural appropriation is best defined as “the use of objects or elements of a non-dominant culture in a way that doesn’t respect their original meaning, give credit to their source, or reinforces stereotypes or contributes to oppression.” Of course, just because something is tied to a specific culture doesn’t mean you can’t do or enjoy it, but how you approach it shows your level of respect for the art form. You can get a workout from twerking, but you can also learn a bit about its cultural significance before using it as cardio. Verywell Minded has a few great questions to help you gauge whether you’re appropriating or genuinely interested in something new:
- What is your goal?
- Are you following a trend or exploring the history of a culture?
- How would people from the culture you are borrowing an item from feel about what you are doing?
- Are there any stereotypes involved?
How to choose the right class
You probably wouldn’t take a Judo class from a teacher who only watched Steven Seagal movies, or learn a new language from someone who doesn’t know much about the countries or cultures where it’s spoken. If you’re interested in learning a new style of dance, start by finding a dance instructor knowledgeable about the history and significance of it. You’ll likely find a new level of respect for what you’re learning, and get a good workout at the same time.