How a Ph.D. Explains ‘Twerking’…Scientifically

While Miley Cyrus’ raunchy performance at the MTV Video Music Awards Sunday might go down as the most-talked-about incidents of “twerking,” the dance craze has been in the media for months (mostly in the form of teens getting in trouble for filming twerking videos).

miley cyrus
Miley Cyrus performs onstage during the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards at the Barclays Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, on Aug. 25, 2013. (Rick Diamond/Getty Images for MTV)

But what exactly is twerking? Conservative commentator Todd Starns has offered his definition for the dance move, but a Ph.D. researcher has elaborated even further on how it is performed — and how it could have both physical benefits and drawbacks, depending on who you are.

Here’s how Michelle Olson, a professor of exercise science at Auburn University, explained twerking to ABC News:

“You take a wide stance with your legs turned out at 10 and 2 so your hips are externally rotated,” she said. “Then you pulse up and down as you thrust the pelvis bone forward and back.”

Olson said the booty dancing move is a good “twerkout” for your butt and thighs. It also works the deep muscles of the hips and the core muscles of the lower back and abdominals. She said it will definitely shape and strengthen all those muscles as well as give them the stamina to do activities important to most people heavily involved in twerking like say, picking up a screaming child off the floor.

While a “twerkout” could help build strength, Olson also said it could have adverse effects on the lower back and knees. ABC News jokingly translates this to meaning that those older than 25 should likely avoid twerking for health reasons.

In other twerking news, the verb “twerk” was also officially added to Britain’s Oxford Dictionaries this week.

The definition: “Twerk, v.: dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.”

Although Cyrus’s eye-popping moves at Monday’s MTV Video Music Awards may have been many viewers’ first introduction to the practice, Oxford Dictionaries’ Katherine Connor Martin said “twerking” was some two decades old.

“There are many theories about the origin of this word, and since it arose in oral use, we may never know the answer for sure,” Martin said. “We think the most likely theory is that it is an alteration of work, because that word has a history of being used in similar ways, with dancers being encouraged to ‘work it.’ The ‘t’ could be a result of blending with another word such as twist or twitch.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.