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Twerking is a type of dance commonly associated with the shaking of hips and posterior in a squatting position. The dance initially rose to mainstream popularity with the emergence of Southern hip hop music in the early 2000s, but it became well known online after homemade dance videos began to surface in 2009.
Twerking has been around since the 90’s, with the emergence of Southern hip hop and crunk genre in particular. However, the term itself didn’t start gaining prominence until after the new millennium, with early influences from “Whistle While You Twurk” (shown below) by Ying Yang Twins and “Twerk a Little” by Bubba Sparxx.
According to an article in The Age, the term “twerk” is thought to be an amalgamation of the words “twist,” “jerk” and “footwork.” On April 6th, 2002, Online Slang Dictionary user Brandon submitted an entry for “twerk”:
“v. to dance in a sexual manner, usually involving shaking on the buttocks.”
The first Urban Dictionary entry was submitted by user Robin on April 7th, 2003, which defined the dance as “to work one’s body, as in dancing, especially the rear end.” Many news sources attribute the popularity of twerk videos on the Internet to the female dance group Twerk Team. According to an article in the Florida and A&M University news site Famuan, the Twerk Team was started in 2005 by three 14-year-old girls in Atlanta, Georgia. On June 5th, 2009, the OfficialTwerkTeam YouTube channel was launched, which featured music videos and footage of the group dancing in a variety of locations. In less than three years of its existence, the YouTube channel has received over 76.1 million video views and 258,000 subscribers while the @TwerkTeam Twitter feed has accumulated over 114,000 followers.
On February 28th, 2006, Yahoo Answers user Sass Say submitted a request for the definition of “twerk,” to which user Dough responded that it was a slang term that describes dancing suggestively. On September 21st, 2011, the website YouTwerk was launched, which highlighted YouTube videos of Twerkers categorized by race.
On February 28th, 2012, the /r/twerk subreddit was created, in which Redditors vote on and submit twerk-related videos. On March 30th, the “Twerk Olympics” Tumblr blog was launched, which highlights videos and animated GIFs of women twerking.
On June 1st, YouTuber lohanthony uploaded a tutorial video on twerking (shown below, left), which received 2.1 million views and 10,600 comments within seven months.
On November 24th, the Facebook page “Twerkers Gone Wild” was created, which gained over 139,000 likes within six weeks. On Nocember 27th, Redditor BBulaga75 submitted a video of YouTuber lohanthony twerking in his school uniform (shown below) to the /r/cringe subreddit, which received over 2,400 up votes and 860 comments within the next month.
Miley Cyrus’ Music Video
On June 3rd, 2013, American pop singer Miley Cyrus released a new single titled “We Can’t Stop.” Although the song was met by criticisms on Twitter and elsewhere for glorifying recreational drug use in the lyrics, it quickly reached the #1 spot on iTunes chart in 27 countries within two days.
On the next day, it was announced on Miley Cyrus’ official Facebook fan page that the singer’s upcoming music video for “We Can’t Stop” will feature a series of fan-made twerking videos. The status update also contained a link to a Facebook application through which the fans could submit their videos with the hashtag #FanMade.
Jimmy Kimmel’s Twerk FAIL Video
On September 3rd, 2013, YouTuber Caitlin Heller uploaded a video titled “Worst Twerk Fail EVER – Girl Catches Fire!” (shown below) showing a young woman twerking while doing a handstand against a door, shortly before someone opens the door and pushes her over a table full of lit candles, causing her pants to catch on fire. Within a week, the video accrued more than 9.8 million views after being featured on dozens of news media sites and culture blogs that week, including Reddit, The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, the New York Post, the Telegraph, World Star Hip Hop, E! Online, Perez Hilton, Gawker and the Hollywood Gossip. A few viral media news sites including Smosh suggested that the video may be fake, citing her outfit and friend’s reaction as markers that it was staged.
Then on September 9th, 2013, Jimmy Kimmel revealed that he orchestrated the FAIL video and that the woman seen in the video, Caitlin Heller, was a professional stuntwoman named Daphne Avalon. During the broadcast, Kimmel also ran an extended version of the video that shows the talk show host running in at the end with a fire extinguisher. The next day, Kimmel’s reveal was featured on a number of blogs including the Daily Dot, Buzzfeed, The Atlantic, Laughing Squid, NPR and CBSNews, among many others.
The popularity of the dance among teenagers and students has led to unintended repercussions as well.
On March 31st, 2013, a video began circulating on Facebook, YouTube and LiveLeak of a father punishing his two daughters by hitting them repeatedly with what appears to be a jump rope (shown below). The uploader claimed the man was punishing the two girls for uploading a twerking video to Facebook. That day, Redditor greenymile submitted the video to the /r/MorbidReality subreddit, where it received over 1,500 up votes and 995 comments. In the comments section of the post, many Redditors argued over whether the father was justified in his actions.
The video was removed from YouTube several times for terms of service violations, only to be reuploaded shortly after. In the next several days, the video was reblogged on several blogs and news sites, including Guyism, the IBI Times, World Star HipHop, The Daily Mail and the New York Daily News. Within four days, the video had received over 2 million views on World Star HipHop.
Scripps Ranch High School
On April 30th, 33 students at Scripps Ranch High School in San Diego, California were put on suspension for uploading and participating in a group twerking video that was shot and edited on school property during a media class (shown below, left). According to NBC San Diego, all of 32 students who participated in the dance and another student who filmed the performance were put on suspension for the rest of the first week in May and banned from attending prom and commencement ceremony. The original video was promptly removed from YouTube, though a number of duplicate versions have been since uploaded after the story began to circulate on Internet news sites and the blogosphere.
Meanwhile, students at the Scripps Ranch High School shared their reactions using the hashtag #freethetwerkteam on Twitter, with many expressing support for their fellow schoolmates and one student even proposed a weekly twerking session during lunch time to protest. When reached for a statement, San Diego Unified School District’s spokesperson Jack Brandais refused to comment on the incident, however, the Scripps Ranch High School student handbook specifies its sexual harassment policy prohibiting “verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature made by someone from or in the educational setting.”
World Star HipHop – Father punishes daughters by whooping them with cable
New York Daily News – video of father beating young daughters with cable wire for twerking sparks
NBC San Diego – Scripps Ranch Students Suspended Over Twerking Video
Huffington Post – Twerking’ Youtube Video Leads To U-T San Diego Students’ Suspensions
The Hollywood Gossip – Twerking Fail: Girl Crashes Into Coffee Table, Catches on FIRE!
fn36 Reddit – That’s really not how you twerk (wait for it…)
The Daily Dot – Jimmy Kimmel was behind the ‘Worst Twerk Fail EVER’ hoax
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