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“I twerk because I’m talented”: Lizzo discusses the history and importance of twerking in a new TED Talk

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Leah Sinclair
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A photo of Lizzo performing on stage

The singer breaks down the origins of twerking and explains why it’s so much more than just a dance. 

“Will we see twerking as an Olympic sport one day – and will Black people be a part of it?”

That was the question posed by Lizzo in a captivating TED Talk about the history of twerking and how it taught her self-love.

The singer swapped the festival stage for a smaller one as she discussed the origins of the dance, its cultural significance and the impact it’s had on her self confidence and career.

“If you follow me on social media before you’ve probably seen my heinie before,” she jokingly states at the beginning of the talk, which was recorded in August. 

“I used to hate my ass, believe it or not. I have my father’s shape and my mother’s thighs, so it’s big and long. I used to think that only asses like J.Lo’s or Beyoncé’s could be famous. I never thought that could happen to me.”

Throughout the talk, Lizzo goes on a detailed journey on the wonderful world of twerking – from its ceremonial roots in West Africa, its popularity in the American south and how this form of dancing helped to build her own confidence and appreciate her body.

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“Twerking is a deep, soulful, spiritual practice. It’s hip opening. It’s empowering. And now we’re practising that on mainstream stages and it’s contributing to the liberation of women and people around the world. Twerking is good for humanity.

“Through the movement of twerking, I realized that my ass is my greatest asset.”

While the talk was a vast exploration and ode to twerking, Lizzo poignantly touched on its entrance into the mainstream in the 2010s, particularly with Miley Cyrus’ 2013 VMA performance, and how critics called twerking “disturbing and disgusting” in its aftermath.

“Once mainstream, twerking was misunderstood and taken out of context. It was bittersweet,” she said.

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“But on the other end, twerking going mainstream played a role in the rise of my profile and in my career.”

She continued: “Everything that Black people create, from fashion to music to the way we talk is co-opted, appropriated and taken by pop culture.

“In this TED Talk, I’m not trying to gatekeep – but I’m definitely trying to let you know who built the damn gate,” she said. “Black people will not be erased from the creation, the history, and the innovation of twerking.”

Lizzo’s reflection on the origins and impact of twerking is an important cultural history for everyone to know and was something many were happy to see celebrated on this platform.

“Lizzo’s Ted Talk on the history and Black roots of twerking is the best thing I’ve seen all day. Watch it,” one person tweeted.

Another said: “This is an incredible Ted Talk. All the love to Lizzo for speaking about how Black art, dance, music, and other parts of our culture have been co-opted and viewed in a certain way from us vs the way it’s viewed with people that co-opt.”

Watch Lizzo’s TED Talk below:

Image: Getty

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