RELIGION: Some consider twerking obscene. Lizzo, in TED Talk, calls it ‘sacred’

dWeb.News Article from Daniel Webster dWeb.News

dWeb.News Article from Daniel Webster dWeb.News


(RNS) — In a new TED Talk released Thurs., Sept. 30, three-time Grammy-winning singer and rapper Lizzo took to the stage to present on a topic on which she’s undeniably well-versed: twerking. Lizzo spoke out about the spiritual origins and expressions behind twerking (a West African dance technique originally recorded in Monterey in August).

“Twerking can be described as a deep, soulful and spiritual practice. It is hip-opening. It’s empowering. It’s said that when performed as the mapouka it’s said “to connect you to God,” Lizzo stated. This is a modern form of an Ivory Coast traditional dance. It’s sacred. Now we are practicing it on the main stages. It’s a way to liberate women and people all over the world .

Twerking, a controversial dance move that involves vigorously shaking one’s rear end, entered the mainstream consciousness thanks to Miley Cyrus’ notorious performance at the 2013 Video Music Awards. Lizzo says that twerking is a cultural and religious act that Cyrus and other white performers have misunderstood.

“All things that Black people make, from music and fashion, to the way they talk, are co-opted, stolen, and taken over by pop culture,” stated Lizzo, who is Black. “I’m not trying gatekeep, but I’m trying to let you all know who built that damn gate.”

Lizzo, center, performs at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota, May 14, 2018. Photo Andy Witchger/Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Though the original iteration of the dance was performed at religious ceremonies, the modern adaptation — usually performed by turning backwards and bending over — was banned from Ivorian television in the early 2000s for its suggestive nature.

” Historically, Black bodies and Black women have been seen as sexualized and objectified, rather than sacred,” Ambre Dromgoole (a doctoral candidate in African American Studies and Religious Studies at Yale University) said. It’s quite mind-blowing that Lizzo, with all her blackness and fatness and her spiritual upbringing, can stand on stage and declare, “This twerk connects my to spirituality, God, and sexuality at once

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Lizzo, who was born in Detroit in 1988 as Melissa Viviane Jefferson and moved to Houston at age ten, was raised as a member of the Pentecostal denomination Church of God in Christ. She was a self-described “nerd” and played the flute, as well as reading the Bible from beginning to end. This was partly out of fear of eternal damnation.

“I had a very religious upbringing based on evangelical beliefs,” Lizzo told Marie Claire Australia in 2020. “Pants were forbidden in church, as they were considered the devil.” It was forbidden to listen to pop, R&B, or rap music. Even going to the movies was prohibited. So I listened to only gospel music .”

Lizzo said that she still prays before every show with her band. Marie Claire told her that “this is a brutal industry.” “You have to cultivate your spirituality.”

Lizzo doesn’t consider twerking sacred. Pentecostal worship is well-known for its embodied sense spirituality, in which dancing and swaying are central. However, Lizzo also experienced Pentecostalism as a set of restrictions. See her childhood ban on wearing pants. These were meant to discourage sex. Lizzo makes the distinction between being sexualized and being sexual in her TED Talk.

Musician Lizzo gives a recent Ted Talk in Monterey, California. Video screengrab

“Lizzo “is collapsing that dichotomy, and really embodying the African spirituality idea of all of life being one,” said Rev. Dr. Neichelle R. Gudry is the dean of Spelman College’s chapel. “At the same time, we are holy and sexual, and there is no division between them .”

Lizzo, who has been public about her body-image struggles, credits twerking with teaching her to love herself. Lizzo displays self-love in her music video for “Rumors” and is accompanied by Cardi B and other Black women. She wears a Grecian floor-length robe and a gold headpiece to make her look like a goddess.

“She links that goddess ethos with other Black women innovators,” said Dromgoole. “She talks in her lyrics about Black women creating rock and roll. In the video, one vase is a picture of Rosetta Tharpe playing her guitar. She says, “You owe me for the contributions I have made and for the contributions my people have made to society .”


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Ambre Dromgoole. Courtesy photo

Beyonce has also invoked goddess iconography, most notably in her 2017 Grammy performance. Viewers likened her gold ensemble with depictions of the Hindu goddess Kali and Venus, as well as Oshun, the Yoruba deity.

Dromgoole stated that both Beyonce, and Lizzo are expanding popular imagery of Black women beyond Afro-Protestantism to include a wider range of spiritual traditions. Dromgoole warns that Lizzo is pushing a Black female image of God, but that Lizzo’s liberative efforts can be complicated by the fact her audience is mainly composed of women of color — who have historically claimed goddess status.

The Rev. Yolanda M. Norton, creator and curator of the Beyonce Mass — a Christian, womanist worship service scored by Beyonce’s music — said there was a time when Beyonce concerts were also largely attended by white women. Black people started to show up after her R&B-heavy album, “Beyonce,” and later “Lemonade.” Norton said that white Lizzo fans will need to confront their attempts at whitewashing the artists they listen too.

” In the TED Talk Lizzo is articulating that “whoever listens” to my music also listens to mine, but Norton said, “I don’t want you to erase anything about my identity.” “I believe that white women who call themselves fan will eventually have to come to terms with that tension .

Norton does not foresee a Lizzo mass anytime soon. She also doesn’t expect twerking in worship services. She believes that Lizzo’s music, messaging and message can be a contribution to Black liberation.

“As Black woman, I have grown up in a world that values Black women and gives them agency in the world. “I believe that any Black woman who loves herself and asserts her agency in the world is God’s work .”

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