A peculiar story captivated Russian Internet users earlier this week: video footage of more than a dozen teenage girls in skin-tight bee costumes “twerking” in unison at a concert in Orenburg.
Twerking, if you don’t know, is a relatively newfangled dance move that involves giggling your hips in a low, squatting stance. If you’ve ever answered nature’s call in the outdoors, during an earthquake, you may have twerked a bit yourself, if only by accident.
Enter the public and the police
Most people reacting to the Orenburg dancers seem to have made two mistakes: (1) they assumed the concert took place at a school talent show, and (2) they thought the participants were as young as 13.
It turns out the video is from a January 31 event at the Credo dance studio (not a high school), and the girls onstage were no younger than 16. According to the woman who runs the dance school, all the underage dancers needed to get the approval of their parents in order to participate.
None of this stopped local police from launching a case against the dance studio, after a preliminary investigation determined that the school committed “criminal negligence” and promoted “obscene behavior.” Following these accusations, Credo suspended all classes until the case is resolved.
But the crackdown didn’t end there.
On April 14, Orenburg’s local government established a formal commission to inspect all the private dance studios in the city. A top official said the government will review these schools’ dance routines “from a moral perspective.”
A perfect story
The story has enjoyed massive attention online and in the news, across Russia’s political spectrum. Consider an example from Russian television: Ordinarily, no two TV news stations are more different than the pro-Kremlin channel LifeNews and the independent station TV Rain. This week, however, women at both channels got on-air lessons in twerking.
— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) April 14, 2015
This scandal offers something for everyone: Russia's liberals have delighted in the irony that the country's young women study sexualized American dances, while politicians preach against Western promiscuity; Russia's conservatives have used the incident as evidence that foreign values are corrupting the country's youth; and newspapers have lapped up an increase in traffic, as readers come looking for racy new images of teenage flesh.
For all its viral popularity, there has been some trouble talking clearly about Orenburg’s twerking teens. Most people, whether they mean to condemn the dance or just to mock the irony of twerking in a “moral nation,” seem to view the scandal as an issue of child abuse, or at the very least they say it’s the dancers’ youth that makes the video so shocking.
Orenburg’s young people push back
Another way of viewing this story is as an attack on women’s rights. Some young people in Orenburg are changing their profile pictures on VKontakte, Russia’s most popular social network, to a banner that reads, “We don’t want to fight, we want to dance” (see right).
On April 14, Dasha Murzaliyeva, who apparently attended Credo, wrote a public post shaming the “under-sexed old men” who criticize the twerking-bee dance. She offers the following advice to dance instructors:
[…] понимайте какого возраста ваши девочки и не гоните со стрипперденсом и тверком 13летник горячих чикит на обозрения мужиков, у которых секса кроме как с руками уже много лет не было и их жен, которые не то, что задом двигать не умеют, а ноги не всегда побрить догадываются […]
[…] know your girls’ ages and don’t have your 13-year-old hot chicks doing stripper-dancing and twerking in view of men whose sex lives were long ago limited to their own hands, and whose wives can’t so much as move their butts, and don’t always bother to shave their legs […]
Murzaliyeva goes on to say that dancers should “steer clear of politics, especially the politics of the Russian Orthodox Church,” and jokes that Russian fans of twerking should “flee the country before you’re all declared American spies and hip hop is banned.”
On April 15, a local rapper even released a song, titled “The Dance of the Bees,” dedicated to the women of Credo, saying the media has been “too aggressive” against the dance studio and made a scandal out of nothing. One of the song’s lyrics reads, “Thanks to this, Oren’s had its moment in the sun—even the BBC talked about us, now can we be done?”
The tune has almost 600 “likes” on VKontakte.