Twerking: What is it, and why did it get high school students suspended?

Dozens of students have been suspended from a San Diego high school after teachers saw a video online of the students ‘twerking,’ according to news reports. 10News, the local ABC news affiliate in San Diego reported that students from Scripps Ranch High School recorded the video “during school, on the property and with school equipment,” and that the school district board may review the video to address complaints that the punishment was too severe.

Whatever the school board decides, plenty of parents and others are no doubt asking what it means to ‘twerk.’ As the user-submitted definitions on Urban Dictionary range from “the rhythmic gyrating of the lower fleshy extremities” to “a fancy word for booty-poppin.” As a term, ‘twerk’ has seen a sudden spike in popularity though the dance style has been featured prominently in hip-hop music videos — like the one for Juvenile’s 1999 single “Back That Thang Up” — for years.

But according to Google Trends, Web search interest in the term twerk hit a peak this month. Searches had previously spiked dramatically in March, after former Disney star Miley Cyrus posted a video of her “twerking” to the song “Wop” by J. Dash and Flo Rida to her Facebook page. In an interview, Cyrus told Ryan Seacrest that she randomly started dancing in front of a backdrop after a photo shoot. After posting it to her Facebook and Twitter profiles, the video went viral. “It’s kind of weird that I’ve, like, twerked for six million people,” Cyrus told listeners of “On-Air with Ryan Seacrest.”

On YouTube, where the video featuring Scripps Ranch High School students was reportedly first posted, a search for “twerking” yields nearly 1.7 million results. Some take an instructional tone. Many are NSFW. There is a thread devoted to twerking on the social news site Reddit. And BuzzFeed, known for bringing viral content to the masses, has a roundup of “The 20 Most Important Twerks of All Time,” featuring a mix of videos and GIFs.

Cyrus wore a unicorn onesie and danced upright in her video, rendering her twerking relatively tame. In the video featuring Scripps Ranch students, some dancers wore tight yoga-style pants and exposed their midriffs as they danced in a handstand position. On YouTube and other sites, twerk videos often feature even less clothing.

ABC News points out that guidelines for school dances at Scripps Ranch High prohibit “dance moves that may be considered sexually provocative or simulate sexual activity, i.e., grinding, freaking, dirty dancing.”

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