Music
7:40 pm
Thu March 20, 2014

Tell Miley Twerking Started In Miami

An archive photo of 2 Live Crew
Credit Getty Images

Miley Cyrus planted twerking in the national consciousness last year when she shook herself onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards. But since the pop prodigy performed in Miami last weekend, at the AmericanAirlines Arena, she should know the provocative dance was born in this city.

It originated in the '80s when the rap group 2 Live Crew's music took off in Miami (click for explicit material).

"People were taking this high-energy dancing form, pounding and going up against each other, throwing their arms and their waists and their hips and their knees and dropping to the floor as fast as they can," says Seth Brimstone, who remembers first encountering Miami "booty bass" in middle school in 1986.

He's a co-founder of PATH, an organization that teaches teens and adults hip-hop culture. Classes include music, urban art and dance and are taught throughout South Florida. 

Brimstone says the word "twerk" came from a shout-out when people were out dancing. Instead of saying "work that body" or "work it girl," people would excitedly jumble up their words, cutting them and dropping syllables. So "work it" and "to work" formed into that now-infamous word: twerk.

The word appeared in Atlanta's Yin Yang Twins debut song, "Whistle While You Twurk" from 2000. And Jay Z reacted to Cyrus' performance with his "twerk, Miley, twerk" references in 2013's "Somewhere in America."

Brimstone's friend David Hobbs, a.k.a. Mr. Mixx, was a pioneer on the Miami booty-bass scene. He was a founding member of 2 Live Crew, which formed in Riverside, Calif., in the early '80s with rappers Chris Wong Won and Yuri Vielot.

Their controversial debut music took off in South Florida in the mid '80s, and eventually Mr. Mixx and Chris Wong Won moved to Miami and linked up with rapper Luther "Uncle Luke" Campbell. Campbell managed the group and later fronted the vocals.

Then the booty dance was born.

Hear an interview Mr. Mixx, and some of Miami's old-school booty music.

Mr. Mixx remembers Miami as the hot, happening place that embraced the booty shake in the '80s. He says "Miami is most definitely where it started."

"I came from California and they were lightweight doing what they would call freak dancing. But it was nothing like what it is that is going on in Miami," he recalls.

Now of all cities to lay the claim to booty dancing, why Miami? Mr. Mixx attributes the melting pot of people who makes up South Florida.

"I think it had a lot to do with the culture of all the different Caribbean places, where people come from," he says. "Whether it's Cuban, Dominican, Puerto Rican, this that, and the other in Miami. I think the attitudes from all those places is what got what was going on down there going on because in other parts of the United States that just wasn't happening at all."

The raunchy lyrics and dance took off and carried on through the '90s. But it wasn't until 2013 that the dance went mainstream thanks to Miley Cyrus.

When the former Disney star grinded up on Robin Thicke at the MTV Video Music Awards, "twerk" suddenly became a household term. From a music-business perspective, Miley's choice was a savvy move according to Mr. Mixx.

He says "...to put it on national TV the way she did was very smart of her, because now she gets all the publicity of bringing it to the light -- Something that has been around for some odd years."

Today, Miley Cyrus is the queen of twerk, but the dance had roots long ago in South Florida.

Click here to see the raunchy, scandalous moves of 2 Live Crew's music.