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The History of Twerking and Booty Shaking: Dances of the Ages

dance01There’s a field of education that focuses on the history of dance. It explains which culture originated a particular dance style, the purpose for such movements, and the roots from whence the dance comes. These dances include dance for spiritual/medical treatment, dance for storytelling, court dancing, Medieval dance, Renaissance dance, ballet, modern choreography, and breakdancing.
However, an interesting dance form whose history that most people don’t think about is “twerking” and “booty shaking.” The media seemed to have popularized these forms of erotic dancing to the mainstream after Miley Cyrus’s performance at the 2013 VMA, although millions of people were already familiar with them for the last 30+ years. They were likely invented in the 1980’s and early 90’s in America, but have their roots in ancient history. So how did twerking and butt shaking come about?
Some people noted that Euripides, an ancient Greek playwright in the 4th century A.D., described women performing ecstatic dancing in his play “The Bacchae.”1 It was a cultic dance for the Dionysus god that may have some degree of sexual connotation. Assumed to be true, this would imply that exotic dancing existed during this time, though on a much smaller scale.
Belly dancing, originating from the ancient world in dance04the Middle East, Mediterranean, and north Africa,2 was originally called Raks Sharqi.3 It was performed by women for women, and not for men, although some men began dancing for other men. The purpose for the Raks Sharqi, or belly dance, was to support women during childbirth preparation. It wasn’t until sometime later that Arabic women would perform in front of male audiences for entertaining purposes. Besides the erotic stereotype placed on belly dances, belly dancing has its health benefits, especially for the female body. Conduct your research concerning this.
In the New Testament scriptures of the Christian bible, according to Matthew 14:6-7, it was Herod’s birthday when Herodias’s daughter danced to “please” him. Herod was so sexually aroused that he was willing to grant her any wish. This event is no different from what is experienced at a strip club or erotic party, where women give lap dances for compensation. Let it be known that the conversation between Herod and the girl occurred sometime in the first century. Regardless of whether one may or may not believe in the literacy of the Bible, what cannot be argued is that the writer acknowledged sexual boogie-woogie. Imagine how much far back dirty dancing originated. Nothing is new under the sun.
dance05In the 1920’s, nude dancers performed under the Florenz Zegfield reviews in New York. Between the 1930’s and 1960’s was the advent of strip teasing and topless (nude) dancing. Blaze Starr and Gypsie Rose Lee were famous actresses at the time who were among the women engaged in such performances.1
The 1980’s and early 1990’s introduced forms of hip-hop music called Miami rap and Miami bass. They consist of fast rhythms, high energy, and bass-friendly kick drums. This type of music included acts like the 69 Boyz (who wrote the song Tootsie Roll), Tag Team (Whoomp, There It Is), The Dogs (Shake Dance K-9 Bass), and Sir Mix-A-Lot (Baby Got Back). This sparked the movement of music video models dancing faster to keep up with the rhythms, resulting in what would eventually become the “twerk.”
In conclusion, gyrating or dirty dancing is more than 1,000 years old. But also remember that some of the so-call sexual dances (like belly dancing and stripper poling) are actually physiologically meaningful.
Christopher Patton
Hot Bird Music
I originally wrote this article on
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Show 4 footnotes

  1. The History of Exotic Dancing – on YouTube –
  2. Belly Dancing: An Ancient Art –
  3. The Forbidden Dance –
  4. The History of Exotic Dancing – on YouTube –