The Art of Twerking

Hip Hop Pro Thrusts Her Way Up the Dance Ladder

By Erica Gonzales

Anet Antosova is on all fours – legs open, palms on the ground, back arched, rear end protruding – as she alternatingly clenches her glutes to the Iggy Azaela rap pounding through the speakers: right, left, right, left. Behind her, roughly 40 girls imitate her movements with deep focus.

Tonight’s Twerk lesson is an open dance class for beginners, which covers basic moves, a short combination of choreography, and a brief history of Twerk, which has roots in an African dance called Mapouka, meaning “dance of the behind,” and was adapted about 20 years ago in New Orleans.

“I want to show them that Twerk is not just this nasty style,” Antosova said over coffee.

She is a petite woman with Cara-Delevingne-like cheekbones and a gymnast’s muscular build. Her chosen dancewear is black thigh-high socks, matching ankle boots, and her signature leopard-print booty shorts that reveal the tail end of a dragon tattoo on her left cheek. When she dances, she transforms into a sassy, sexy performer with sharp movements and a face full of attitude.

Antosova, 25, is called the “pioneer of Twerk in the Czech Republic,” the first to teach such classes in the country. She currently holds four per week at STAGE Praha, a dance center in Prague’s Vinohrady district, but finds herself adding more sessions because spots fill up so quickly. When she’s not teaching at STAGE, Antosova can be found hosting workshops around Europe, from France, to the Netherlands, to Poland. Just last weekend, she was in Italy.

“I want to show them that Twerk is not just this nasty style.”

Her students come equipped with spandex shorts and kneepads, and are almost always female, ranging from high school teens interested in the pop culture trend, to 50-year-olds seeking a workout. With openings in the beginner class selling for 180 korunas per session (about 9 USD), it’s easy for non-dancers to drop in and try; many of them stay.

“Reactions are from, ‘Whoa that’s great!’ to ‘What the fuck is this?’ From lovers to haters. From left to right,” said Pavel Strouhal, choreographer and STAGE Praha owner.

A typical Twerk stance shown by Antosova. Photo courtesy of Anet Antosova

A typical Twerk stance shown by Antosova. Photo courtesy of Dieta by Ivy E. Morwell.

“In general I could say that many of those are just jealous dancers,” said Antosova. “Some of them didn’t even try it and they are saying it’s very easy, it’s just shaking, it’s not a dance.”

Twerk, for those living under a rock, is a dance style that involves a quick, sexualized twisting and jerking (“twerking” combined) of the derriere often done in short shorts to loud hip-hop music. If you’ve seen Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” video, or Miley Cyrus’ 2013 VMA performance with – or on, rather – Robin Thicke, you have witnessed twerking.

It seems surprising at first that this provocative dance is spreading in the Czech Republic, a post-communist country often characterized as passive, reserved, and behind with Western trends. But at the same time, Czechs have a history of taking American pop-culture crazes and making them their own. John Lennon, Pink Floyd, and Michael Jackson, for example, are still glorified celebrities here.

The same goes with Twerk. Though seen as a sexualized stunt in the United States (the media lost it when a schoolteacher quit her job to twerk professionally), Antosova and her large following look past the ridiculousness.

“Well, but it’s fun, it’s crazy, and if you look at the background of this specific dance style in some way it’s also serious for its own history, it’s own story,” said Antosova, who reportedly enjoys and laughs back at those who scoff at Twerk.

“I turn it into something special through my dance choreographies. I’m trying to bring it to another level.” And it shows. She stands apart from other twerkers because she includes Dancehall, hip-hop, and MTV – video girl dance – moves in her combinations.

Czechs are also internationally renowned for their established ballet culture, and growing contemporary one. Meanwhile, hip-hop, which Twerk falls under, is a “huge” but “independent world,” said Jana Navratova, who heads the Dance Section at the Arts & Theater Institute.

“It is good that different forms of movement get out there. But otherwise, I don’t care about twerking,” said Vaclav Kunes, executive director of 420People, one of the most esteemed Czech modern dance companies.

Antosova has been part of both worlds long before Twerk. She studied ballet, jazz, and hip-hop in Houston, Texas and Jackson, Mississippi when she was 14. A few years later she lived in London, where she studied dance for six months. Upon moving to Prague, she started getting more teaching offers and gigs. One of the biggest was being chosen to dance in Kanye West’s “Runaway” music video – without an audition – and his European tour.

Now, she specializes in and teaches Dancehall, a popular Jamaican street dance that involves Twerk moves, which is how she picked up and perfected the movement. While other twerkers focus mainly on the booty-shaking, she incorporates hip-hop, dancehall, and other genres in her choreography, which is what makes her different. Yet the class was not entirely her idea, but her boss’.

Pavel Strouhal, colleague of Antosova for seven years, made the suggestion after watching a viral video of Siberian dancers twerking from Fraules Dance Studio, which had 4.8 million views. He thought that classes would be successful.

“She’s very open to anything, so I just called her and sent her some message, saying, ‘Learn this, you’re going to teach it from next year’,” Strouhal said. And she did.

Antosova held her first class in February, with only about seven attendees. It was not until she was a guest on the Jan Kraus Show – the Tonight Show of the Czech Republic – that her class attendance swelled. “She’s kind of a celebrity now, so she’s getting more and more people,” Strouhal said.

Since her talk show appearance, where she perkily gave 61-year-old Kraus and other guests a Twerk lesson on air, Antosova also noticed that other teachers started their own classes, even if they lacked proper training.

“Learn from somebody who already does it and who is damn good in it. Not just start it,” Antosova advised. “In my opinion, most of them are not even dancers,” she added.

“But the truth is that all the haters are my engine. So thanks for that!”

Aspiring Twerk teachers can attend Antosova’s courses for lectors, which cover proper teacher-student interaction, muscle conditioning, First Aid, and choreography. The weekend-long seminar from October 10-12 culminated with individual performances – to “Anaconda”, of course – and a written test. Of the 15 participants, two of which traveled from Spain, only three received certificates. The rest received vouchers to attend Antosova’s classes again for free until they pass.

Yet even if some teachers win her over, the bigger challenge is winning over her students. When another Twerk teacher filled in while Antosova was on her Holland tour, the result was “catastrophic,” said Eliska Jahodova, a student of Antosova for six years. “I think that people were leaving because they were like, ‘Oh it’s not Anet, I’m not gonna go there’ because they’re really obsessed with her.”

Jahodova, who works as a part-time receptionist at STAGE, often has to turn people away at the door after the allowed maximum of 50 students have registered for a class. She has seen rejects cry hysterically or threaten to call the studio director, even if they have not already paid for the class.

Even merchandise is in high demand. The most popular items are neon spandex shorts with a “TWERK by Anet” logo on the rear, for 900 korunas, $45 each. Half of the participants at the teachers’ “twerkshop” were wearing them.

They love Antosova for her energy, Jahodova said. Even when she and Strouhal invited Siberian twerker Elena Yatkina of Fraules to host workshops at STAGE, some students got bored. “And, it really never happened in Anet’s class that somebody would be bored there,” Jahodova said.

Antosova bounces energetically even to the rhythm of warm ups. She claps loudly and squeals as high as a whistle over the blaring music. She jokes with her students in her high-pitched voice when demonstrating some moves. In the final minutes of one of class, she danced the choreography with the class, but continued improvising even after they stopped. She dropped to her knees then effortlessly rolled into a split, all while still twerking.

Anet Antosova twerks it out with a group of prospective teachers.  Photo by Caroline Maeda.

Anet Antosova twerks it out with a group of prospective teachers. Photo by Caroline Maeda.

“I was born a hyperactive kid,” said Antosova, who pursued tennis, sport aerobics and even horseback riding growing up.

Not everyone is as obsessed with the rise of Twerk as Antosova’s students are. When Jahodova was talking to a famous group of Czech breakdancers, she said they told her it was “sad” that “people are giving so much money” to learn twerk rather than more established Czech dance styles.

Disapproval even came from outside the dance community when a Facebook user from South America posted one of Antosova’s twerk videos online. It in turn got numerous shares, about 80,000 likes, and thousands of comments. Most of them were hostile, asking, “How can a girl without a big ass do twerk?” Some even compared pictures of Antosova’s bottom to bigger ones.

“If there is somebody saying something negative, then I’m not listening to it, and being all stressed about it. I’m just doing my thing in the best way I can do,” Antosova said. “But the truth is that all the haters are my engine. So thanks for that!” she laughed.

Though some people have their minds made up about Twerk, it’s hard to tell where it will head next.

“Dance is very dynamic phenomenon, the styles, techniques boom up and disappear,” said Navratova. “Nobody can say, if Twerk is something ‘for ever’ or just a trend ‘for fun,’” she said. Not even Antosova can be sure.

“I’m not saying that Twerk is my life, I’m not saying that I will be trainer till the end of my life, I’m just saying that I’m open to any challenges, and I’m trying new things, new stuff,” she said, “If somebody comes to ask me to act in some movie, I would do it. I’m a performer, you know, an exhibitor. I’m not shy to say that.”

Erica Gonzales is in the NYU College of Arts and Science Class of 2016. Her hometown is Wyckoff, New Jersey.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Culture, Fall 2014 Issue Number 2, NYU Prague

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

Subscribe

Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

%d bloggers like this: