January is such a funny time for twerk-out studios. Everyone is trying to get in shape and perfect their dance moves for the New Year. Of course, this means an overload on twerk-hopefuls entering classes just to quit in mid-February.
A few weeks ago, as I settled into my crowded evening class, a young, fairly thin white woman took her position right behind me. She appeared to have never set foot in a twerk-out studio before. She anxiously glanced around the room, adjusting her booty shorts, looking wide-eyed and incredibly nervous. Within just the first few minutes of French Montana's "Pop That," I saw the fear in her eyes as she attempted to squat and, well, pop that. She was obviously filled with panic and then despair. Before we even started twerking on the chairs, she had hunched over with her hand on her knees, head lowered, trapped and vulnerable. She stayed there, staring, for the rest of the class.
Because I was directly in front of her, I had no choice but to twerk in her face. I found it impossible to not think about this poor woman behind me. Even though I wasn't positioned to stare directly at her, I knew she was still staring directly at my ass. Over the course of the next hour, I felt her despair turn into resentment and then contempt. I just knew for sure that it was directed toward me and my booty.
By the time Juvenile's "Back That Ass Up" came on, I was completely unable to focus on my twerking. Instead, I was feeling hyper-aware of my spandex booty shorts, my sexy tight tank top, my well-versedness in dropping it like it's hot. My heavy-set black woman body. Surely, this skinny white girl was noticing all of these things and judging me for them, stereotyping me, resenting me -- or so I assumed. However, I'm pretty sure I was right. How could I be wrong?
I thought about how even though Miley Cyrus appropriated this ancient dance which actually originated in Africa, twerking is still biased towards other races, genders, ages, experience levels and socioeconomic statuses. My twerk-out studio preaches the gospel of rump-shaking egalitarianism but despite it all, it is still mostly populated by non-white people. And in large and constantly rotating roster of instructors, I could only remember two being half-white.
I thought about how that must feel: To be a skinny white woman entering for the first time a system that by all accounts seems unable to accommodate her small booty. What could I do to help her? If I were her, I thought, I would want as little attention to be drawn to my unfortunate dance moves and despair as possible. I would not want anyone to notice me. And so I tried to very deliberately avoid shaking my behind in her face. But I still felt her hostility towards me. Trying to ignore her only made things worse. Should I have told her to bend over to the front and touch her toes? Should I have encouraged her to drop down and get her eagle on? Would that have made me come off as rude or ghetto? Condescending, even? If I asked her to articulate her experience to me so I could listen, would she have felt more comfortable? Her lack of ass and skill made me feel so uncomfortable. The system should make itself accessible to a broader range of booty shapes.
I got home from that class and immediately broke down crying. I mean, I was hysterical. I called my therapist, my mother and my pastor to help me cope with the pain. Twerking, a beloved dance that has helped me through many dark moments in my life, suddenly felt deeply evil. I so deserved to be targeted by that woman's racially-charged anger. But maybe that's my own psychological projection. Nah, she was totally hating me.
The question is, of course, so much bigger than twerking, so much bigger than my ass -- it's a question of enormous systemic failure. How can we fix the system? How can America practice twerking in good conscience when there isn't enough awareness? I'm sure this piece is one of the most inspiring you will ever read in your lifetime. My words will create change and twerking will never be the same. This story calls for hope.
A woman infamously had the same issue as I did. Please read her story on XOJane and appropriately barf afterwards. I didn't want to state the obvious, so I decided to express my frustration through humor.
This post originally apepared on Kazzledazz.com.