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With Big Freedia back in town this weekend, we thought it was worth re-visiting the culture behind freak dancing. Buckle up, things are about to get bumpy:

A Cultural History of Contemporary Freak Dancing

Pt. 1: The Caribbean + South America

The first time I saw what I identified as “grinding” was at the age of 5 in St. Maartin. People were dancing to steel drums and rubbing their pelvises on each other. Just like the   first time I saw Mick Jagger, I immediately identified this as “sexual”.


Every culture has their own version of Freak Dancing. From the favelas of Brazil to the gym floors of middle America- kids are rubbing their crotches together in new and interesting ways that make adults uncomfortable.

Forbidden and sexually risque dances have existed forever probably but only since the modern media came along has it been able to spread from country to country as either “dance sensations” or “dance crazes plaguing the youth and endangering musical cultures”. In 1927 Clara Bow made a lot of white protestant women feel very threatened when she wore a bandeau top and grass skirt to dance the hula on the big screen. Cut to the 00’s and WaPo’s Laura Session Stepp, who took it upon herself to cover the “grinding” beat for the paper in the 00’s.

Sexy dancing can tell you a lot about a culture’s social and sexual dynamics: Who is the aggressor? Who is a passive recipient? Blah blah blah… Basically what dirty dancing lets us do is express our darkest desires through public performance- rendering our behavior safe. It’s not safe to have sex with a total stranger in a secluded location, but it’s totally fine to reenact sex acts with them on a dancefloor surrounded by a hundred people.

Due to it’s really good looking populations, super awesome climate and horrible economic/ political/economic history that has bred the need for escapism (simplified, I know)- the Caribbean and South America have been hot beds of modern dirty dancing innovation.


Lambada- Brazil

The modern American obsession with the Caribbean’s sexy dances began with the 1980s with the Lambada, a Brazilian dance that drew on a bunch of different Brazilian and European traditional dance styles- the fusion of which ultimately turned out to be a dance focusing on the hips and super sweet skirts that flare up to reveal as much of a woman’s thighs as possible.

Once French Pop group Koama had an international hit based around co-opting the Lambada and their idea of Brazilian cutlure, Lamabada aka “The Forbidden Dance” actually became popular in Brazil’s urban centers.

But REAL Brazilians knew that the true traditional forbidden dance of Brazil was the Maxixe, an Afro-European tango dating back to the 1860s, named after the prickly part of a cactus…. hmmmm…..



Perreo Dancing: Puerto Rico and Cuba

Historically, Perreo was the first type of back-to-front dancing seen in many Caribbean countries and can be seen historically as a “gateway” dance to all other forms of sexy dancing.

Perreo or “Doggysytle” is a form of grinding in which the guy hits it from behind- obviously you guys. What’s nice about the dance is that if you’re a shy young adult, pererro dancing allows you to dip your toe into the pool of publicly simulated sexual acts without having to look your partner in the eye.

With Perreo, the woman is in control of the dance (unlike previous sexy dance forms ie: lambada, salsa, merengue). The woman is not only the object of her dance partners, but is also highly visible to those surrounding allowing her to make eye contact with other future partners or merely perform.



Daggering: Jamaica

When I first started listening to Dancehall music, I couldn’t decipher words or the grammatical structure of the lyrics to understand that most of the time they were talking about guns, ripping off peoples’ skulls, killing gay people and “stabbin'” women.  But hey, Jamaica is a really fucked up place and keeps on getting more fucked up- naturally this would also cause an escalation in the culture’s sexually aggressive music and dances.

Enter Daggering, a slang term for THE ROUGHEST OF ROUGH SEX that has found its way, of course, to the sweaty dancefloors of Jamaica. The dance is so rough, that a lot of times men will pop their penis on a woman’s pubic bone – leading to excruciating pain, swelling, and blood. I’m all for rough sex and I’m I think it’s totally fine (albeit weird) for people to act this out on the dancefloor, but this is what you and your man get when you create sex slang based on the act of repeatedly knifing a woman’s reproductive organs.

Compared to other manifestations of freak dancing, Daggering is definitely the most aggressive yet most exhilarating to watch with its incredibly gymnastic moves which either takes the alluring form of a sexual tumbling session or that of a serial rapist with Kerri Strug vault skills bounding off a speaker or ladder penis first onto some woman’s crotch.


Surra du Bunda: Brazil

Surra du Bunda, which translates to “butt pounding” is pretty much the opposite of Daggering. In this dance, men passively sit on the ground while women give him a face dance (rather than a lap dance) but because of the drum heavy, stacatto music, she basically beats her buttocks into the mans face as opposed to a more sensual butt-face rub.

The Brazilians have long been OBSESSED with butts and have created the standard for buttocks beauty- they created the thong remember.

Apparently, this dance isn’t typically seen on your average night out on the town. Rather, professional troupes of strippers perform the dance in an organized setting narrated in a dominatrix-like manner by one of the girls in the troupe. But now that the dance went viral over the Spring, I’m sure Brazilian as well as Syosset preteens are doing it at church dances and bar mitzvahs, respectively— closing that feedback loop ever quicker.



The Future of Contemporary Caribbean and South American Freak Dancing…

As long as we can stop the oil spill from killing all the sea turtles, I think we have something here:


(or obv like pop-level mainstream appropriation cf Major Lazer)