What Is Twerking?

Between the recent video of Miley Cyrus twerking, that teacher in Colorado getting fired over tweeting racy pics of herself, including some of her twerking, and our recent compilation of twerking fails, you may be asking yourself… WTF is twerking?

Miley twerkin’ up a storm.


Simplest definition? It’s an acrobatic and aggressive booty shaking dance that has its roots in Southern strip clubs, where the better you shake, the more money you make. It’s name comes from combining the words “to” and “work.” So that’s what it is, but why is everyone doing it all of a sudden? Well, it’s not really all of a sudden. It’s been on its way to becoming a thing for the better part of 15 years.
Sexy dancing is nothing new. Your parents did it back in the day. Yep, and they probably did it as a prelude to having sex. Twerking, on the other hand, is a relatively recent addition to the catalog of dirty dances. One of the first times I can remember seeing anything resembling twerking is in 1999’s Juvenile video, Back That Thang Up. The video features a lot of women shaking it hard. The idea is there, but the moves in that video are not as athletic as some of the moves we see in today’s twerking. I think you can refer to the dancing there as proto-twerk booty shaking.

[[contentId: 2433407| data-allowvote: false| style:width: 480px; height: 360px;]]

A dancer from the Back That Thang Up video, stuck forever, unable to back it up.

In 2000, the Yin Yang Twins released a song that gave America the name for this kind of dancing. The song was Whistle While You Twurk. Ironically, the vixen-heavy video features very little of what we would come to know as twerking. The word is even spelled differently! The Yin Yang Twins would return a couple year’s later on Li’l Jon’s Get Low (2003) where they mention the dance again. “She getting crunk in the club. I mean she work it/And I like to see the female twurking.”

So the word and the dance definitely come from Southern strip club culture, but those songs came out before Break.com and Youtube even existed. Why is it a thing now? The easiest answer to that question is Youtube.

2009 saw the emergence of Twerk Team on Youtube. They uploaded videos of themselves dancing to popular songs. Strike that, twerking to popular songs, which is something they’d been doing since 2005 at parties across Atlanta. By 2011, they were popular enough to be name dropped in hip hop songs, and they even released music of their own. Here’s the Twerk Team’s first video.

Now here’s there most recent video. All that really seems to have changed is their level of notoriety.

It appears that interest in Twerking can be almost directly attributed to the Twerk Team. Here’s what Google shows as the trend in interest in the word Twerk:

Now compare that to “Twerk Team.”




The rise in interest in Twerking seems to veer closely to the rise in interest in the Twerk Team, so it appears we have the girls of the Twerk Team to thank for interest in the dance, and as we’ve seen with any dance craze, be it the Harlem Shake or Gangnam Style, dances spread quickly through Youtube by imitation and repetition. Thanks to Youtube it doesn’t take long for a dance to go from The Twerk Team to a twerk team to Hollywood starlets to bored girls in the middle of the country. And once you get there, you don’t have to go much further to get to… When Twerking Goes Wrong. 


[[contentId: 2432959| data-allowvote: false]]


Follow me on Twitter @earnestp. Do I twerk on Twitter? Follow and find out.