Pan-African Twerking


That South Africa has a "Pro Twerk Team" may seem like a great opportunity to see twerking from a new, non-American perspective. Or to throw shade.

Source: Facebook page of Protwerkers.

Welcome to Africa is a Country’s first (?) NSFW post. South Africa has a “pro” twerk team. In what could have been an amazing Pan-African exchange, they came up short and better called themselves professionals. Full stop as I reluctantly throw them a dark haze of shade.

I guess everyone outside the southern United States just discovered what twerking/freak dancing/winding is. (All different, but bear with me.) I’m not hating on the “South Africa Twerk team” because they are twerking. I have been twerkin’ for nearly all my life, and it’s a time honored pastime for me and several of my close friends. Better, this seemed like a great opportunity to see twerking from a new, non-American perspective.

Nope, I’m disappointed because this twerk team is NOT TWERKING. Which is unfortunate, because the origins of twerking, like most great things, lie in Africa. My homie and twerk extraordinaire, Sawdayah, pointed out some quick references are Makossa or Makassi (Cameroon), Mapouka (Cote d’Ivoire), Kwasa Kwasa (DRC).

Twerking is not simply dizzying butt movements meant to arouse any guy watching. It’s not tight camera shots that make you feel like you’re at an awkward strip club. It for damn sure isn’t absent of technique, rhythm and continuous movement and energy. And that’s not what the Pro-Twerkers are giving the camera here.

I’d like to give you, the reader, and y’all, the SA “Pro” Twerkers a quick primer on how to ride the beat.

First, here’s the very talented Atlanta Twerk Team.

To be able to twerk effectively, what you’re doing is pulling in all the techniques learned from a variety of dance forms, and being able to manipulate your hips to create a façade of impossible moves. It is serious and actually requires years of practice and talent. Gymnastics, belly dancing, salsa can all be incorporated, thus, allowing you to recognize a pro when you see one.

If you grew up in the American south, you’ve probably been twerking all your life. At family reunions as a 6-year old. At middle school dances outside the glance of the chaperone. It’s not about someone else projecting their own sexual issues onto you. Here are some classics to practice with. I’ll start with Juvenile with the obvious reference in the title, “Back That Ass Up.”

Next up is Project Pat and Juicy J’s “Twerk It.” The lyrics are gross, but thank you Three 6 Mafia, UGK, and Bun B for your bass lines.

Then you have to know how to play with the layers of rhythms. Ciara in “Ride” is fantastic.

Can you do that? Yes? You are talented. One of the members of the SA Pro Twerkers immediately complains that they get a lot of haters who dismiss them as simply doing sexual dancing. Another goes on to say that they have all types of different techniques and rhythms they throw on their hips. First, girls, your haters have a point and second, just no. You are not professionals. What you are giving is a sexual shock factor, not real twerking talent. If you want it to be an authentic, Southern style twerk, elevate above the basic “just-found-out-I-got-a booty” spastic gyrating and become one with the beat. Learn the basics.

Improvise and earn the professional title. Until then, please practice.

Further Reading

Take it to the house

On this month’s AIAC Radio, Boima celebrates all things basketball, looking at its historical relationships with music and race, then focusing on Africa’s biggest names in the sport.

El maestro siempre

Maky Madiba Sylla is a militant filmmaker excavating iconic Africans whose legacies he believes need to be known widely—like the singer Laba Sosseh.

Madiba and Mali

There is a remarkable connection between Mali and South Africa, dating back to the liberation struggle, and actively encouraged by the author’s work.

A devil’s deal

Rwanda’s proposed refugee deal with Britain is another strike against President Paul Kagame’s claim that he is an authentic and fearless pan-Africanist who advocates for the less fortunate.

Red and Black

Yunxiang Gao’s new book takes a fresh look at connected lives of African American and Chinese leftist activists, artists and intellectuals after World War II.

The Dar es Salaam years

In the early 1970s, Walter Rodney, expelled from Jamaica, took a post in Tanzania. In Leo Zeilig’s new book, he captures those exciting, but also difficult years and how it formed Rodney.

Rushing to boycott

The cultural boycott of Russia turns to the flawed precedent of apartheid South Africa for inspiration, while ignoring the much more carefully considered boycott of official Israeli culture by the BDS Movement.

The party question

Marcel Paret’s book, “Fragmented Militancy: Precarious Resistance in South Africa after Racial Inclusion,” tries to make sense of politics in South African urban informal settlements.

The missing pieces

Between melancholy, terror, and disillusion, Petit Pays is a groundbreaking and eye-opening take on one of the darkest pages of African history, one that is often misunderstood in the West.