“The booty don’t lie” – Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu’s “Q.U.E.E.N.”
“I’m wigglin’ my fanny, I’m raunchy dancing, I’m-a-doing it doing it” – Betty Davis’ “If I’m in Luck I Might Just Get Picked Up”
“Free yaself gal, you got class and you got pride
Come together cuz we strong and unified…
Show it off gal and let di world see
Roll it gal, roll it gal” – Alison Hinds’ “Roll It Gal”
(All the songs in the playlist at the end of the post)
“These hips are magic hips.” – Lucille Clifton’s poem “Homage to My Hips”
Thinking about Janelle Monae’s recent videos for “Dance Apocalyptic” and “Q.U.E.E.N.,” I was inspired to write about booty dancing and its relationship to us in the African diaspora. With Miley Cyrus releasing twerking videos and claiming that she wants a sound that “feels black,” I cannot help but feel a bit of deja vu, by way of Elvis, the so-called “pelvis.” I cannot help but think of the way Afro-diasporic dances, like hip-swiveling, waist rolling, booty shaking movements, that are significant to us and part of our lived experiences, are vilified, hypersexualized, and laughed at when we do it, but when others outside our cultures appropriate it, its not treated with as much disgust and disrespect.
Booty dances are one of the connecting parts of cultures across the diaspora from whining (wining, wainin, etc.) and perreo in the Caribbean, to the several dance names in the United States from shake a tailfeather, da butt and twerking, to mapouka, soukous and others in many African countries. Yet although booty dancing has been part of our cultures and many of us have grown up with them, others, and even some, of us still see it as negative, stereotyping it ghetto and low-class, and not a sacred, traditional part of our cultures. Often these judgements are using morals indoctrinated into us by heteropatriarchal religions like Christianity and Islam. Black men are not expected to move their hips and black women who do so are immediately slut-shamed.
For example, this GIF that circulated last year on tumblr of the young girl who was popping her booty followed by receiving a spanking by an older male figure. Another is the father who was arrested for beating his two daughters with an extension cord for doing a twerking video. In both incidents people were congratulating these men on their parenting skills and not seeing this as a violation of these girls’ bodies. I understand that some grownups are worried about young girls growing up too fast and the sexual objectification of women, but doing booty dances are not a result of that. It is how we think and view them and treat those who do them that results in these dances being seen that way.
Booty dances are natural ways people express the enjoyment in the movement of their bodies like any dance or physical activity, as Proud Chocolate Girl said here in her post. They should not be overly sexualized, and that is what these two men did. There was a better way to have handled it, like discussing with them their motivations for doing the dance; is it for their own enjoyment or to please others and get attention; or taking them to an afro-diasporic dance class to learn the cultures behind those dances. How about teaching young boys to respect young girls, their bodies and what they do with their bodies. Beating these girls just reinforces fear of their own bodies. Disrespect of booty dancing not only affects black women, but also the men and enjoyment in their own bodies. If you look at Congolese and Caribbean culture, often men are moving their hips as much as much as the women are. The issue is that a lot of things that women, especially black women, and to expand black people in general, do are not seen in anything other than a sexual nature. How many times do I have to read about how people of the African diaspora are wild and horny animals because we do these dances? Why is it that belly dancing and pacific islands’ hula dancing with hip movements are not demonized in the same way?
But rarely discussed is how booty and hip dances are great for our health, physically, mentally and spiritually. Body scientist Makeda Voletta spoke in a video about Haitian dances, which do involve a lot of hip and booty movements, being her yoga, and that powerful hip movements are great to release stored trauma in our midsection; there is medicine in that dancing. Funmilayo Chesney, the founder of Fusha Dance company, who specializes in Congolese dancing, said similar things about working the hips as a way to lose weight and cure disease. As stated in the article about her, many of the modern hip and booty dances from the diaspora have traditions in the Congo and were helpful in our survival:
“Incidentally the movements which constitute Congolese Dance are generally focused on the center of the body. It is in the mid-section of the body that both the digestive and reproductive organs are housed. This is probably why the movements associated with Congolese Dance or any dance that has a focus on the mid-section of the body, are healing and along with a change in diet will help combat reproductive disorders such as fibroids, ovarian cysts, irregular cycles as well as disorders of the prostate. The movements increase the flow of oxygen and blood in the body’s mid-section, which aids the body in the prevention of disease.” 1
Our booty dances are special and sacred, and we should treat it as such, like in soca singer Denise Belfon’s latest video “Wining Queen,” with its myth of the lost tribe of winers. Imagine if the world was coming to an end and the only dance that could save us was to do a booty dance! Then dance like it’s nobody’s business!
Here is a list of articles and posts for more conversations about booty dancing:
Cosmic Yoruba’s “TWERK: Booty-dancing, gender politics & white privilege”
Abagond’s “Booty Dancing”
Melissa Campbell’s “‘Go White Girl!:’ Hip Hop Booty Dancing and White Female Body”
Astrid Kusser – “The Riddle of the Booty – Dancing and the Black Atlantic”
1) “How People Use Congolese Dance to Lose Weight and Cure Diseases in New York”
Gradiant Lair’s “Black Women and Twerking: Why Its Creators Face Bigotry That Miley Cyrus Never Will”
Crunk Feminist Collective’s ““The Booty Don’t Lie”: Kelly, K. Michelle, & Janelle Monae’ Sing Black Girl Freedom”
Disrupting Dinner Parties’ “I Will Keep Twerking”
Tumblrs: Gouye! Tchoumakaya! Ventelatou! Niiko! and Haute Coutwerk (Keep in mind, I prefer not to use the name twerk outside of US context, the dances all over the world have different names and are slightly different).
Below is my playlist of booty dancing videos from around the world, past and present. Enjoy!
Videos: 1) Janelle Monae – “Dance Apocalyptic” 2) Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu – “Q.U.E.E.N.” 3) Betty Davis – “If I’m in Luck I Might Just Get Picked up” 4) Patra – “Dip and Fall Back” 5) Square One – “Aye Aye Aye” 6) Alison Hinds – “Roll it Gal” 7) Destra – “Wine It” 8 ) Destra – “Feel Like Wukking” 9) Alison Hinds, Destra and Denise Belfon – “Obsessive Winers” 10) Dr. Sakis and Afro Modern – “La Bamboula” 11) Dr. Sakis and Afro Modern – “Shake Your Body” 12) Soukous Vibration Dancers Performance 13) Quad City DJs – “Come ‘n’ Ride the Train” 14) E.U.- “Da Butt” 15) Salt ‘n’ Pepa – “Shake Your Thang” 16) Peaches and Herb – “Shake Your Groove Thang” 17) The Five Du-Tones – “Shake Your Tailfeather” 18) Makeda Voletta- “Why Haitian Dance is My Yoga” 19) Congolese Hip Roll 20) Dany Egobo – “Seven” 21) Twerk vs. Wine 22) T-pain – “Booty Wurk” 23) Ciara feat. Ludacris – “Ride” 24) Beyonce feat. Jay-Z – “Crazy in Love” 25) Chakacha Village Booty Dance 26) Josephine Baker’s Danse Sauvage 27)/28) Miriam Makeba – “Pata Pata” 29) African Booty Dance 30) Arab Malaya 31) Amara La Negra – “El Baile de Ayy” 32) Celia Cruz – “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” 33) Mr. Vegas feat. Alison Hinds – “Bruk It Down” 34) Konshens – “Gal A Bubble” 35) Denise Belfon – “Wining Queen” 36) Denise Belfon – “Licks” 37) Twerk for Mother’s Day and More!