Lizzo is educating the uninformed on the true history of one of Black women’s cultural creations. The 33-year-old rap songstress talked all things twerk in a new TED Talk discussing the reclamation of traditions of Black culture that are often co-opted by the mainstream.
“This is a dream 3 years in the making,” she said of her speech on Instagram. “I watched our bodies and the way we move them become a cultural phenomenon. I’m here to make sure it’s not a trend. WE ARE HERE TO STAY.”
Her talk, lovingly dubbed TEDXTWERK by Lizzo, touched on everything from the historical origins of the often overly sexualized and appropriated dance move, to how performing the motion has bolstered her own self-confidence.
“If you follow me on social media you’ve probably seen my heinie before. It’s no secret,” she told the crowd. “But you know, I used to hate my ass, believe it or not. I have my father’s shape and my mother’s size, so it was big and long.”
Lizzo said she never thought a body or a rear-end like hers could be the object of fame or seen as beautiful. She thought that type of recognition could only belong to bodies like Jennifer Lopez’s or Beyoncé’s. But the act of twerking made her body – and her booty – not only “acceptable,” but beloved by millions.
Lizzo said that she found her first bit of confidence in her backside after learning how to twerk in Houston teen clubs.
“The better I got, the more I fell in love with what I had, because, damn, my ass could do magic.”
But she wanted to be sure that the crowd had a good sense of what twerking truly is, beyond the often demonized pop culture phenomenon it has become over the years.
“Modern-day twerking derived from Black people and Black culture. It has a direct parallel to West African dances like mapouka,’ she explained.
“Traditionally, mapouka was a dance for West African women to be used as a celebration of joy, religious worship or a dance to do at a wedding to show you were DTF or DTM…down to marry.”
“Black women carried these dances across the transatlantic slave trade to the ring shout and what became the Black American Church, into the hips of Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith when they sang the blues, into the bounce of Josephine Baker’s banana dance. From jazz dance to jitterbug, from shake ya tailfeather to shake your thang to that thang thangin’.”
For Lizzo, she sees the dance as something affirming rather than something derogatory or disrespectful.
“When I shake this ass, I do it for the culture, not the vulture. For me, twerking ain’t a trend. My body is not a trend,” she said. “I twerk because Black women are undeniable.”
“I twerk because it’s unique to the Black experience. It’s unique to my culture, and it means something real to me. I twerk because I’m talented. Because I’m sexual, but not to be sexualized. I twerk to own my power, to reclaim my Blackness, my culture.”
For Lizzo’s full TED Talk, check out the video above.