The question is as old as time itself: Where did twerking come from? The quintessential move to shake what our mommas gave us began long before the early 2000s phenomenon, but exactly from where did it originate? The bootylicious dance move that has taken the world by storm in recent years began in a land far away, but as far as American audiences are concerned, the ample backside shake caught on like wildfire thanks to twerking advocates like Major Lazer and Miley Cyrus. Now, we’re getting a chance to educate ourselves on the NSFW dance move thanks to the amply titled documentary, #Twerkumentary—yes, the hashtag is actually part of the film title.
Italian filmmaker Spaghetto, director of the booty-popping and thigh-jiggling full-length feature, digs deep into the history of twerking and traces its foundations all the way back to the Paleolithic age—no, seriously.
For Spaghetto, twerking wasn’t exactly a thing in her native Italy until Miley Cyrus got down with the backside romping at the 2013 MTV VMAs. Seeing the former Disney star bust a move triggered an uncontrollable urge to track down the twerk and tell its story. Through tons of research, the filmmaker was able to piece together its history with the help of some famous experts, including Parliament-Funkadelic’s George Clinton, Big Freedia, Diplo and more. If there’s one thing Spaghetto wants you to know, it’s that twerking “didn’t start with Miley.”
“George Clinton is the first musician that said the word ‘twerk’ in a song in 1978,” reveals Spaghetto. “Big Freedia and other bounce artists from New Orleans explain how African dances such as Ivory Coast’s Mapouka are at the origins of the style.”
Spaghetto would find New Orleans as the epicenter of the twerking craze in the US, something Diplo and late collaborator Nicky Da B discovered back in 2012. “‘Express Yourself’ helped popularize New Orleans culture and also the handstand twerking around the world,” she says of the Diplo and Nicky Da B hit. And the rest is simply history.
Now a full-blown craze in every corner of the world, twerking has become an inescapable cultural phenomenon. From club nights to school dances, the twerk is here to stay.
However, not everyone is happy about it. Moms and grandmas alike released the gasp heard around the world when twerking made its way onto the scene; even high schools across the country banned the dance, deeming it “inappropriate.”
Many also argue that the dance specifically objectifies women, although in essence, twerking is a gender-neutral thing, according to others. For Spaghetto, she found twerking to be a double-sided dance move. While it can be empowering, and just plain fun, she also found it could dually be a demeaning act.
“It really all depends on how it’s done and where and what’s the motive behind it” explains the filmmaker. “I don’t like when it’s overused in male artists’ music videos. It seems like it’s just a way for them to show their power and to get more views. It’s not empowering at all for the girls. I’m happy for them if they’re getting paid for dancing in a video, but I don’t think it’s sending an empowering message to the rest of us, at all.
“On the other hand, when it’s done at home or at the club with your girlfriends, I think it’s super empowering,” she continues. “It’s sending the message that you can be confident with your body and do something fun for yourself without needing guys. When it’s not a counterpart of male sexuality it’s when it’s more empowering, to me.”
With #Twerkumentary, Spaghetto aims to tell the story of the twerk and to also shed some positivity on the often-misunderstood culture.
“This documentary won’t save the world or make it a better place, but if even one guy who watches it shows more respect the next time he sees a girl twerking at a party, or if a girl will stand up for herself [after watching it] instead of letting a random stranger slap her ass when she’s just trying to have fun, it will make me very happy.”
#Twerkumentary premieres tonight, Friday, June 10, at the Wiltern in Los Angeles to be followed by the official after-party featuring DJ sets and performances from Mike G (Odd Future), Kreayshawn and Dem Ham Boyz (Ham on Everything).