THIS YEAR, while doing stand-up at Bumbershoot, I caught Big Freedia's dance team on stage and later in the performers' lounge. (Bumbershoot thinks comedians are as cool as Big Freedia and Wu-Tang Clan. Big mistake, Bumbershoot! Thanks for the doughnuts!) And I will tell you this: Big Freedia's dance team's twerking was athletic, original, and the centerpiece of their stage show; those girls were stars.
Originating in Big Freedia's New Orleans bounce/hiphop scene, twerking was first described in the lyrics of Southern rappers like the Ying Yang Twins and Huey, later entering the mainstream via mentions by Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake. Today, "twerk teams" post videos from all over the world: Jamaica, Ukraine, Germany, England, Tanzania, and the nation of Miley fans. Behold: The cycle of cultural appropriation.
Then, at my sister's wedding last week, my mom casually asked me, "So, how do I twerk?" It's official! Twerking is as mainstream as Greek yogurt. I usually resist dance fads, but what will I say when my kids ask me what 2014 was like, with all the twerking and dubstep and whatnot? My dad went to college in the early '70s, and once I asked him what it was like to hear Zeppelin and Hendrix in their prime. "I never really cared much for music," he said. That will not be my fate. No, goddammit. I will twerk.
But there's a problem: While bounce music nights in Portland aren't unheard of—Holocene has both Booty Bassment and Body Party—I don't want to wait. So, like many before, I turn to the internet.
There are a bevy of YouTube "twerkshops." I decide to trust Anet Antošová (who's from Prague and seems insane) and Kaylin Garcia (whose "Twerk'n with Kaylin" video is pretty self-explanatory). I watch and follow along as best I can, feeling good as things start out: The warm-up stretches are akin to belly dancing, isolating muscle groups, shifting your abdominal core front to back.
In my $9.99 Ikea floor mirror, I watch my progress. My instincts are surprisingly on point! Get low, find a rhythm, keep it up, follow your butt's centrifugal force. In this way, I am uniquely qualified for twerking: I have a supreme caboose. (I also like to think of myself as a strong swimmer, when in truth I'm just extremely buoyant in the back. I could have kept Jack and Kate alive for days.)
Advanced twerking sometimes employs kneepads, splits, and handstands, but I focus on the basics: wide stance, deeply arched back, pelvis popping in and out. Hands should alternate between support positions on thighs and the floor. You're going to want to wear booty shorts to see what your butt is doing. And the most important part of twerking, it turns out, is looking as bored as possible: from the neck down, shaking, popping, and dropping it; from the neck up, reading an invisible National Geographic.
Dancing, like comedy, is all about failing publicly over and over, which is the missing educational component here. So come see me drop it—and slowly, laboriously, pick it up again—at Booty Bassment on Saturday, October 4, at Holocene. I'm learning slowly, but I'm putting in the twerk.