Twerking (/ˈtwɜːrkɪŋ/) is a type of dance originating as part of the bounce music scene of New Orleans in the late 1980s. Individually-performed, chiefly but not exclusively by women, dancers move in a sexually-provocative manner throwing or thrusting their hips back or shaking their buttocks, often in a low squatting stance. Twerking is part of a larger set of characteristic moves unique to the New Orleans style of hip-hop known as "Bounce". Moves include "mixing", "exercising", the "bend over", the "shoulder hustle", "clapping", "buttcheeks clapping", and "the wild wood"—all recognized as "booty shaking" or "bounce". Twerking is but one choreographic gesture within bounce.
As a tradition shaped by local aid and pleasure clubs, block parties and second lines, the dance was central to "a historical situating of sissy bounce—bounce music as performed by artists from the New Orleans African-American community that [led to] a meteoric rise in popularity post-[Hurricane Katrina after 2005]." In the 90s, twerking had widespread appeal in black party culture throughout the hip-hop/rap region known as The Dirty South, including New Orleans, Memphis, Virginia Beach, Miami, Atlanta, and Houston. In 2013 it became the top "What is" search on the Google search engine.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines an 18th century use of the word as a blend of "twist" and "jerk", which was reported by the BBC in conjunction with the black cultural context, but this seems to be an erroneous connection or a false cognate.Outsiders speculate that the term is a contraction of "footwork" and repeat the notion that it is a portmanteau of the words "twist" and "jerk". The Oxford Dictionaries blog states, "the most likely theory is that it is an alteration of work, because that word has a history of being used in similar ways, with dancers being encouraged to "work it". Local bounce practitioners attribute the term to a contraction of "to work" or "t'werk".
The earliest use of the word "twerk" on record was produced in a local New Orleans recording by DJ Jubilee. The word specifically originated from the inner-city of New Orleans and was used frequently in New Orleans Bounce music by rappers and djs hosting block parties in the housing projects. The word became popular In the 2000s when it was used by Atlantarapper Lil Jon and The Eastside boys. A Google Trends search reveals that interest in the word "twerk" arose in November 2011. The diffusion of the dance phenomenon began earlier via local parties and eventually strip clubs often associated with mainstream rap music and video production aired by video cable television shows that featured rap and R&B music. Popular video-sharing channels amplified interest since the advent of digital social media platforms.
In 2013, the dance became a viral sensation beyond black culture. Miley Cyrus used the dance in a video that was uploaded first to Facebook and then YouTube in March. Though twerking began trending as a web search in November 2011, and despite its origins in the bounce culture of New Orleans in the late 1980s, the word twerk would be added to the Oxford Dictionary Online and attributed to Cyrus following her appearance at the MTV VMA Awards in August 2013. It became the number one "What is" Google search that year as those outside the culture questioned the popularity of the booty-popping dance that showed up across social media feeds worldwide. The word was a runner-up to "selfie" in the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013.
Linked to Africa and the African diaspora
Historically and currently, similar styles of booty-shaking are found throughout the continent of Africa as well as the African and Afro-Latin diaspora. Similar styles of dance are known as mapouka in Ivory Coast, leumbeul in Senegal, and other styles can be found in Tanzania, Southeast Nigeria, Uganda and Kenyato name a few. This style of pelvic- and hip-isolated dancing is known as perreo or sandungueo associated with Reggaeton from Puerto Rico. Twerking can be said to be indirectly linked to African cultural dancing without any direct connections between people from Africa. Without knowledge of its historical or cultural roots in New Orleans and links to a diaspora of styles of dance, the trend was discussed in ahistorical ways. Twerking like many cultural traditions or expressive dances associated with marginalized groups has become stigmatized in racialized and gendered ways that often associates those who perform the dance—primarily girls and women of color—with deviant behavior.
In the recording industry
First time on record
The word "twerking" first appeared on record in "Do the Jubilee All" by DJ Jubilee in 1993, in which he chanted, "Twerk baby, twerk baby, twerk, twerk, twerk." In 1995, New Orleans-based rapper Cheeky Blakk recorded the song "Twerk Something!", a call-and-response dance song dedicated to twerking. In 1997, DJ Jubilee recorded "Get Ready, Ready" in which he encouraged listeners to "Twerk it!".