For the past year, I have been going to classes to learn how to dance like Beyoncé. I know what you’re thinking: can this possibly be as fun as it sounds? The answer is yes, more fun even. It’s like dancing in your bedroom to your favourite song to the power of a million. There’s always a moment, sometimes two, when you actually believe you are Beyoncé. Sure, one look in the mirror is enough to remind you that you really, really aren’t. But in the moment, it’s amazing.
As I have noted before, with some regret, Beyoncé and I are not terribly similar. She is an extremely beautiful and talented woman, with a body like a goddess. I don’t wish to be tediously self-deprecating about my appearance, but let’s just say we wouldn’t exactly pass for sisters. I lack some rather fundamental skills: coordination, rhythm, grace. I can follow the footwork OK, and the arm movements, but I’m not very good at doing them at the same time, which it turns out is kind of key in a dance routine. Beyoncé, on the other hand, has this nailed.
But none of this matters. No one makes me feel like an idiot, although it’s highly likely I look like one. The whole thing makes me sublimely happy: I come away feeling like I do on a sunny day, after a run or a glass of wine. I think the world would be a better, happier place if we were all prepared to make a fool out of ourselves more often.
So it’s fair to say that I’m getting a lot out of these classes. The problem is, it’s occurred to me that maybe it isn’t terribly feminist. The dance moves are pretty filth; it feels uncomfortably close to pole-dancing classes, which I know are ‘problematic’. Things get worse when the company starts running a dance class to ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke. It starts offering twerking lessons – a ‘twerkshop’. I’m not sure where I stand on Miley-gate, but it’s clear that there’s a world of sketchiness going on there. Things get still worse when I realise that, actually, I want to go to the twerkshop. Ellie Mae O’Hagan has written in the Guardian that ‘to twerk or not to twerk [is] the zeitgeist question.’ I really do have to confront this conflict of interests.
I think about the implications of the twerking class A LOT – some might say too much. I wish I could say that I decided twerking is actually a feminist thing to do because it’s my choice and because it’s fun. That would be neat, but I don’t buy it. I don’t think every choice is a feminist choice, otherwise feminism would just be ‘women doing stuff’ – there’s got to be more to it than that. I wonder if maybe I’m being trivial, maybe this isn’t a feminist issue at all – why don’t I just focus on what’s really important and twerk my way to solving the pay gap? I guess because I don’t think that the pay gap is some weird aberration that’s just sprung up in our otherwise brilliant post-feminist society. I think it’s a product of misogynist culture, and cupcakes, high heels and boob jobs are all part of that. I don’t think feminists who are concerned about pole-dancing classes are wide of the mark; I think it’s a completely valid thing to question (I just can’t join them because let’s face it, evidence suggests that I would really really enjoy a pole-dancing class.)
People get very angry about feminism ‘stopping women doing things’ but surely achieving any kind of change is going to require some sacrifice? I wonder if other movements suffer this level of introspection: whether climate change activists write long blog-posts about whether or not they should fly to America. Maybe it’s just that the feminism appears to ask of us (although, contrary to the stereotype, I have never actually heard a feminist say ‘all women must do this’ about anything) are all connected to the meat-and-blood of our lives: relationships, marriage, bodies, things that cut to the very core of us. To take a feminist stance on everything would be exhausting, and probably untenable.
It’s on that basis that I decide to go to the twerkshop. I get a bit apprehensive about it. My mum has seen the Miley Cyrus video and is genuinely worried that I will have to simulate masturbation with a foam finger. In the end, it’s just like a normal Beyoncé class but to Iggy Azalea’s ‘Work’ and with a heavily twerk-based routine. It’s marginally less fun than dancing to a Beyoncé song, but then, isn’t everything? As always, it’s amazingly nice to be in a room full of women who seem really, genuinely happy – I don’t think that necessarily qualifies it as a feminist act, but it doesn’t seem a million miles away from what feminism is trying to achieve. People – men and women – watch the class with curiosity; I can’t speak for anyone else there, but I genuinely don’t care. I don’t feel worried by it or like I’m performing for them: it’s an irrelevance. The whole thing feels (go on, say it) a bit liberating.
I still fear I am benefitting from a society that thinks women’s main purpose is to be sexy – I’m not entirely convinced that twerking classes will still exist after the feminist revolution (although I hope I won’t be shot for being a collaborator). I still think Miley Cyrus at the VMAs was grim and Robin Thicke is even grimmer. I don’t think we’re ever going to reach consensus on what a feminist act is, but I do think the world would be a better place if we didn’t try to make feminist arguments for things just because we happen to like them. I don’t ultimately think the twerkshop is very feminist, but I think that has to come second to how happy it makes me. Now, must solve pay gap.