Here’s why twerking leaves so many of us totally unmoved

by | Sep 17, 2013 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Like any kid who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, I have an uneasy relationship with dancing. I try to explain this to teenagers in my life, but it falls on deaf ears or, more precisely, shaking heads, shimmying shoulders, gyrating hips and deaf ears.

Kids today, even the shy ones, seem to have all kinds of moves. A nerdy looking boy with an overbite will demurely say, “Aww, I can’t dance,” then throw up his hands, close his eyes, wiggle his torso, stop and mumble, “See?”

See what? In my day, that would have put you on “American Bandstand.”

My generation comes from a lost era, dropped on the dancing time line somewhere between the Mashed Potato and the Electric Slide. I believe you have formative years with dance, and they stay with you forever, kind of like fat cells, and those years come when you are in junior high and high school.

The moves you learn back then, no matter what happens the rest of your life, become your default setting. In the late ’60s, words like “groovy” were in fashion, words like “straight” were an insult, and so formal steps on a dance floor were frowned upon. You were supposed to let the music transport you.

Which is why guys from my generation still can be seen today, balding and fattened up, working two basic moves. The bounce left and right, and the hang-on-for-dear-life. The latter we used to call “slow dancing.” Today it just looks like two people trying to keep warm in the Arctic. You pressed together as close as physically possible, and waited for the song to end. Occasionally you would slide an inch or two, but it wasn’t a formal move. Just shifting the sweat.

Clean-cut to barely clothed

Back then, we didn’t “twerk.” I only recently learned what “twerking” was, when I returned from a vacation to find the entire country talking about it.

Apparently, teen star Miley Cyrus, who came to fame as a clean-cut, apple-cheeked TV character named Hannah Montana, raised everyone’s blood pressure when, during a performance on a music awards show, she “twerked” all over her fellow dancers, her backup singers and her performance partner, Robin Thicke.

Almost immediately, twerking – and whether Cyrus should be doing it on national television – shot to the top of America’s Most Pressing Issue list, slightly above whether we should invade Syria. Analysts broke it down. The word “twerking” was entered into the Oxford online dictionary. It now reads:

Twerk: Dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.

Oxford then used the word in a sentence: Just wait till they catch their daughters twerking to this song.

No kidding. In our day, we also had a sentence for kids bending over, shaking their tush in someone’s crotch area and grinning with their eyes closed. It went: “Grounded for a month.”

Cooler than absolute zero

The details of twerking are now all over the Internet. Instructions. History. Some claim it goes back 20 years. Whatever. Folks from my era just shrug it off as another thing we will never do, like zip-lining or writing our own rap lyrics.

To be honest, I feel sorry for kids today. We only had to learn to roll our arms in the air, like we were conjuring up a magic potion, and we could survive on the dance floor. Kids today need to grind, slide and simulate sex moves in order to be considered worthy.

It’s disturbing to see 11-year-olds thrusting and gyrating, suggesting they know the seductions of lovemaking when they haven’t gotten their braces off. Wait until they find out that actual sex is nowhere near as coordinated as an MTV performance. How can they feel anything other than uncool?

Which is all this twerking fuss is about. Being cooler than the rest. Cyrus, who, like other former child stars (Britney Spears, Justin Bieber) seems hell-bent on destroying the image she worked years to perfect, told a film crew that, before going out on stage, knowing how twerky she was going to be, she and Thicke said, “You know we’re about to make history right now.”

Then again, if all it took to make history was squatting and twirling your butt, the makers of the bidet would be a lot more famous.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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