Photo: Undrey (Shutterstock)
There has never been a shortage of fashion trends for fashion groups – from TaeBo to Zumba to Pole Dance and everything in between. One recent fad, however, is one that you might want to think twice about: twerking, which has grown from its African roots to a growing exercise craze. And unfortunately the further the dance style penetrates into the mainstream, the greater the risk of continuing a story of appropriation of black culture and wincing from sympathetic friends. To stop the cycle (or at least be more conscious of it) there are a few extra steps you should take before you pay to take a virtual fitness class.
Know a little about what you are doing
Popular dances often have stories that are lost along the way before becoming a mainstream trend. Twerking is one of them derived from West African dance where the small, isolated movements from the hips in the squatting position were often used as solemn dance. At one point, “bounce” music became popular in New Orleans and artists Big Freida used twerking in her videosAt the same time, the more modern version of the dance began to form in the United States. At the same time, the Harlem Twerk teams released some amazingly nifty ones twerk videosand finally we got where we are today.
Remember how to recognize appropriation
Cultural appropriation is best defined as “The use of objects or elements of a non-dominant culture in a way that does not respect their original meaning, does not recognize their source, or reinforces stereotypes or contributes to oppression.” Of course, just because something is tied to a particular culture doesn’t mean you can’t do it or enjoy it, but how you go about it shows your respect for the art form. You can get some workout from twerking, but you can also learn about its cultural significance before using it as cardio. Very good natured has a few good questions that can help you judge whether you are learning something new or are genuinely interested in it:
- What is your goal?
- Are you following a trend or are you exploring the history of a culture?
- How would people from the culture you borrow an item from feel about what you are doing?
- Are there any stereotypes?
How to choose the right class
You probably wouldn’t take a judo class from a teacher who’s only seen Steven Seagal movies or learn a new language from someone who doesn’t know much about the countries or cultures they’re spoken in. If you are interested in learning a new dance style, first find a dance instructor who is familiar with the history and meaning of the dance style. You will likely find a new level of respect for what you are learning while receiving good training.
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