Twerking came to the forefront of the American consciousness when Miley Cyrus bent over in front of Robin Thicke. But for many of us, the dance is just natural movement—something our bodies, and our ancestors' bodies, have always done, with no need for instruction or explanation. That's the basis of Fannie Sosa's "Twerkshops," a global series of donation-based sessions designed to help women, woman-identified, and genderfluid people twerk their way to cosmological freedom. It's also the topic of her PhD, whose dissertation focuses on unearthing and linking hidden knowledges about twerking as a direct descendent of neolithic fertility dances. For a deeper look at what that means, we chatted with Fannie over Skype from Tenerife, and asked her to explain the links between the past, the present, and the future, and what it means to derive power from pleasure. Get woke below.
FANNIE SOSA: The first time I heard of twerking was about five years ago. Katey Red came to Paris for a gig and she was performing with a friend of mine, and they invited me to hang out. Before the gig, my friend was like, “Oh yeah! Twerking–it’s this!” and I immediately knew how to do it, because I had been doing it my whole life. I often say, I’m not teaching you how to twerk–you don’t learn how to twerk, you remember how to twerk. It’s obviously a knowledge that is so much more present for black women and for the bodies of women of color and especially diasporic bodies. That moment was a revelation for me. I was literally transfixed the whole night because something had been named in me that gave me pleasure since I was a kid, but I didn’t know that it was a unit in itself. You know?
I was finishing a master’s on scandal and performance art, and I had to get inscribed into a PhD program. And I was like, “I need to write about this. I need to make this my subject.” I read a lot of Paul B. Preciado back then, who writes about biotechnology and modifying the body through DIY processes and technologies. And so for me twerking became an act of empowerment and emancipation. It was something that I did for friends of friends and then I started really gathering a lot of empirical knowledge. Like, women would get their periods after doing twerkshops—three-day twerkshops, especially—and I was like, “This is so interesting!” There’s nothing about it online. It took me literally a year, because it’s such hidden knowledge, to put two and two together like, “Oh my god, these are fertility dances!” And not just in the sense of conception, but also in the sense of contraception. These dances are contraceptive and abortive and this is why they are [considered] the dances of the whores and the easy women. From then on, my head sort of exploded.
As nomad and semi-nomad societies, we didn’t count time with the stars. We didn’t look at the sky because the sky was always different, because we were moving. Because we were in matrilineal and matrilocal societies, women were very close and would have their periods at the same time and basically get pregnant at the same time, and have babies at the same time. So the way that we counted time was through the cycles of women—through the cycles of twenty-eight days that reflected the ones of the moon. These dances were celebratory, ritual, healing dances to keep the earth moving and to keep our blood moving, our womb moving, to keep it active, healthy, fit. Neolithical dances also gave the belly dancers, also gave the hulas in the Polynesias. They gave a lot of different dances which are related to the womb or to the ass.
Obviously these concepts are complex and I’m essentializing, but eventually everything that was considered womanly—anything associated with the more centered, quiet force—became a synonym of not-survival. At the same time, the image of God became a punishing God, where before it was an abundant female entity, a mother. The Abrahamic three religions have a very, very strong prominent patriarchal figure in the sky that is not among us, is divine and elsewhere. The concept of heaven and hell was born, divinity deserted us and the earth, and everything that had to do with erotic autonomy or that had to do with the control of fertility by women for women, became taboo, demonic, dirty, ridiculous, and literally a threat.
These dances were done in a circle—there’s a lot of images and frescos and murals from that time where there are circles of people, and women especially, basically studying. The circles were schools. Not just a party or a social thing, they were very much a living university. The patriarchy understood really quickly that the formation of a circle was one that was unhierarchical—because there’s nobody at the forefront—so what the patriarchy did, really quick, was to open up the circles and turn them into lines. And that’s when these dances were opened up toward, literally, the male gaze. That’s when they lost their healing properties. Nowadays, they are considered indecent or hypersexualized and all of these things.
I became really passionate about this whole history because it encapsulates a politic, which is, “Pleasure is power,” [a reference to India Ame'ye's quote, "A sensually activated woman is a wealthy natural resource for any community. Pleasure is power."]. White supremacist patriarchy doesn’t really want us to know that our reproductive bodies are actually pleasurable ones. Births are supposed to be orgasmic, they’re not supposed to be painful. So the act of twerking became quickly a political act because I really linked it to my body being pleasurable—but I understood the economy behind it as well. A body that is pleasurable is a body that is not depending on capitalism. Like, I’m not depending on a doctor to give birth, I’m not depending on Ibuprofen when I have my period, and all those things.
I’ve been rolling my third eye for years, because I feel like the current conversation about twerking goes hand-in-hand in this bigger, economic strategy that white supremacist capitalism is deploying, which is making bodies that were marginal—black bodies, queer bodies—making them trendy. I feel blackness is so trendy right now. Like everybody wants to be black, but nobody wants to be black, and there’s a lot of phenomenas, like Miley Virus, that serve white supremacist patriarchy.
Part of what I’m trying to do with the twerkshops is to recreate the yonic spaces, the circular spaces, to learn and to de-hierarchize as well, and to have this sustainable, energetic cycle that is not just giving off to the male gaze or to a tourist gaze. I wanna see grassroots networks of Women of Color talking to each other. There’s an amazing author who I love called Casilda Rodrigáñez whose work I’m trying to translate into English and French. Basically she states that women need to get talking in circles and that’s the only way that this madness is gonna come to an end without killing us all, basically. And that’s what I want to achieve: circles.