Fannie Sosa from Paris/Europe/Everywhere does a lot of things. A-LOT-OF-THINGS.
The Argentinian-Brazilian activist, teacher, healer and artist gives radical decolonial queer Twerkshops in Europe and Latin America, produced a TV show for kids on YouTube, makes music and obtains Ph.D. studies.
Hallelujah! But she made time for Superlative Magazine while in Rio de Janeiro and spent a lovely day with CUNTributer Caren Miesenberger at Copacabana beach talking Twerk, Decolonization and how to take care of oneself as an activist.
Fannie, what brings you to Rio de Janeiro?
I’m here with my studies.
I’m trying to write a Ph.D. and I am also trying to take a rest from being an immigrant actually.
What is your Ph.D. about that you’re coming here?
My Ph.D. is called Twerk and Torque: New Strategies for Subjectivity and Decolonization in the Web 2.0 times.
So it’s about diasporic practices in the largest sense, but in the most particular sense it’s everything that has to do with the ass and the womb in Black-American (in the sense of all the Americas, which is really important) diasporic practices and the journey that I have gone through to include them in my life and how they have healed me and still do and how they can serve as a tool to dismantle a lot of engrained behavior and systems that we have swallowed, namely white supremacist patriarchy.
I really feel like pleasure is power and reclaiming our pleasure, which is definitely present in twerking, is the best tool to dismantle white supremacist patriarchy.
You also give Twerkshops. What exactly happens there?
There are two parts: The first part is what I call the learning in a circle part which is basically sitting down in a circle and talking to each other.
So I tend to ask people: Why do you come here? It’s not just a dance class.
For me it’s really important to be in a circle because I come from very academic spaces where there’s like a headmaster, the teacher is behind a desk, standing up, and is dominating the audience, the class, which is sat down and ranked and sort of absorbing passively the knowledge. And I feel like that way of learning comes from military, kyriarchic organizations. What Paulo Freire (Brazilian educator, editor’s note) calls the banking system of knowledge: You just see knowledge as an investment and you don’t make it yours, you don’t relate to the knowledge. So I really want to teach Twerking in a way that people can relate to the knowledge. In a way that people can deconstruct what I give to them as well. So that people can have a critical thinking, a critical compassion with the way that I teach, which is limited. Because I am a person, also because I am not the authority on Twerking. I am only a student of it. So it feels fair and also very inspiring to sit myself down in the middle of the circle and to open up the space to say‚ here is what I’ve discovered so far, let’s all study twerk together, let’s all try to bring our bodies and souls to the circle.‘
You said you ask people why they come to your class. What do they answer?
Most people say that they are totally cut off from their bodies. That they feel really frustrated or sad.
People come with depressions, especially in Europe. And then I think there are different connotations for female identified bodies and male identified bodies. A lot of men come to Twerkshops because they have been severed from their asses in a hypermasculine way. And a lot of female identified bodies come to Twerkshops and they have been severed from their Asses in a different way. Like „don’t show that to people cause it’s dangerous, dark, dirty, disgusting“ or it’s something you’re only supposed to show certain people. I guess the repression is the same but it embodies itself in different ways.“
Besides all the practice there is so much theory. I danced in youth centers in Hamburg with people from different backgrounds, academically and culturally. A lot of them don’t go to university. I have the feeling that some of them would probably not understand what you’re talking about. Who are the people coming to your workshop, is it mostly academic folks?
This is a really good question and it’s something that I ask myself all the time because I feel like no healing tool is evolutionary if only for “some people”. I really feel like the chain of production that happens before and after these healing spaces is really important. I’ve seen a lot of New Age Gurus online and a lot of them are so fucking expensive. And you’re like: who goes there? I’m a student, I’m an immigrant, I’m in desperate need of this shit but I cannot go there. The Twerkshops are donation based, mostly grassroot organized as in they’re organized on Facebook as events and people just donate whatever they can and they come to a place, preferably a place that is free, but sometimes I rent studios.
When it is big institutions that host Twerkshops it is for free. That is something I’m never gonna change. It’s one of the most important parts of this space: That it is donation based or even trade based as I have exchanged services with other people – and also that it’s free when it’s a big institution. But, having said that: Yes, of course I do get a lot of white, academic bodies in my Twerkshops. And I’m actively trying to dismantle that every time I put on a Twerkshop. Trying to open space for people that need it. People that are immigrants like me, people that are students, people that are survivors, people that can’t access holistic therapies because of how elitist they are. So when an institution pays me to come I always try to do another Twerkshop for free in some kind of community center, social institution or squat.
Dancing is always resistance. Would you agree to that?
Yap.Like I said: Pleasure is power…. Well, actually, No. Because I think dance is so associated with pain, a lot, in western societies. Whether it’s ballet or other dances, it’s all about feel the burn, feel the pain, twist your body et cetera. But I do think that whenever dance has to do with pleasure and self-expression then it is resistance, then it is power. Pleasure is power.
Gyrating your waistline can be called wining as in Trinidad, wukkup as in Barbados or girar as in Brazil. It’s a movement that is used in a lot of different places, but Twerking is a term from the United States of America. Why did you choose to call it Twerking?
Twerking is twist and jerk at the same time… It comes from the Bounce culture in New Orleans, something that was done in block parties, sort of daytime vibes, mothers teaching it to their children.
The reason why I call it twerking is because the very moment that I realized that I had been gyrating my hips in this way all my life was when I danced for Katey Red who is a bounce legendary.
She was there with her dancers and they were twerking and I was like: Oh my God, this has a name?
I didn’t know that that act of moving your ass up and down – I had been doing it forever – had a precise name.
I sort of called it “Perreo”, which is a Puerto Rican set of moves, but it is less precise.
I was so happy to have found a precise word for it and I love that it has to do with „work“.
It is something that is deeply rooted in pride and joy.
And then, to be honest, Twerkshops were a way to make a living out of it, because it’s a really nerdy wordplay but it works (laughs).
I feel like a legendary transmitted that knowledge to me and named it for me.
So I always tend to say Twerking comes from many diasporic dances and you can find them under different shapes all over the Americas and even in some Middle Eastern countries as well.
You know, there is Dutty Wine, there is Perreo, there is Baile Funk, there’s Quadradinho de Oito, there is the Chaoui and the Malaya dances in Middle Eastern Countries, there is the Hulas in the Polynesian Islands… Does that make sense?
It does. It’s just interesting because some people here in Brazil are pissed off with everything that comes from the United States of America cause they are so present and perceived as oppressive. So I was wondering why you’d choose a term from there.
I agree with that.
That’s why I say it’s a strategy to „work it“. As much at it is something that was named in me in that scene, in the bounce culture, I do think it’s very paradoxical. I have a problem with this imperialism that the US cultural production has, which also sadly goes to Black American cultural production. And it’s very hard to say that, but I do feel that the Black American cultural production is imperialist.
Not because it’s Black, but because it’s American. Twerking as a word has its own intrinsic dynamics and has things that need to be talked about and addressed when people ask me why I call it that way. But I think it’s important to depart from somewhere, somewhere that a lot of people can relate to.
Language itself is colonial, you know. This language that I’m using to talk to you is colonial. So why are we using English? We could be using another language – but then when you depart from this language, which is a big highway of communication, you get less visible and you get less people hearing the message. You maybe get to only talk to a certain elite…
So it’s the navigation between these two things, using the imperial channels to spread this decolonial message and how those imperial channels are using you, too.
Adrienne Reich said “This is the oppressor’s language yet I need it to talk to you.”, talking about the many different tribes of diasporic and indigenous bodies whose only common language was English. It was only through English they could organize to resist.
That’s the function that “twerk” has for me.
I posted the interview you gave i-D magazine on Facebook and one black male friend of mine from Swaziland commented the following: „I always find it interesting to have a white woman (I doubt I will ever meet an Argentinian who would ever say he or she is black) steal moves that black women in the US used to scrap by a living. There is an inherent privilege, and dare I say appropriation, given to this rather interesting lady who claims activism. Just my thoughts though.“ – What are your thoughts on that?
Well, I have feelings about that rather than thoughts. It hits me in the feelings rather than in the thoughts when people say that. Because I am not Argentinian, I am Brazilian-Argentinian.
My father is Black, I have been Negra all my life in Argentina. When I’m at the airport I do not have a white passing, in front of the police I do not have a white passing. In front of the schools, in front of all the institutions. In front of the male gaze. I do not have a white passing. So it feels unfair that people say that I’m white. Based on a certain image that those people have about being Black.
I’m Brown, I am not inscribed under the racial binary order that the master implemented to divide us and rule.
I mean I’m not here trying to deny that I have the privilege of being lighter skinned. But I’m also not gonna deny the experiences of racism that I continuously undergo. That’s the first thing.
Somebody that says “She’s Argentinian therefore she’s white”…equating nationality with race is really fucking oppressive already, then saying: “I’ve never met an Argentinian person that says they’re black” – well, then you haven’t met Black Argentinians. You’re basically ignorant.
And I think the part of cultural appropriation…I get it, you know, I get it. I’m a lighter skinned woman of color, I don’t have nappy hair, and I’m afro-descendant but not Black-american. I see that myself and I get that from other people thinking “Is she including that knowledge in her practice?”
Yes I am.
First of all, I’m not making money out of this. I’m literally just surviving. I don’t have a business model, I don’t have sponsors, I don’t have promoters. I don’t have shit. I only have myself. And then the question of appropriation culture…
Twerking is a diasporic practice that is present in a lot of places, not only in the Black African diaspora, it’s also present in very different indigenous and diasporic spaces. And to just assign it to one diasporic space is to say: you have a certain shade of brown, you’re not black, you don’t belong, you can’t sit with us.
That for me is really, really oppressive, and another set of the master’s tools.
I don’t want you to get angry. I’m just trying to not silence his voice which is why I’m asking you this.
I get it.
I talk to white supremacist mediums and either whitewash me or assign me a certain “cartoon” blackness and I’m like “hold on….” and then I talk to your friend from Swaziland and he says ‘you’re not black, you don’t get to do this because you look a certain way’ and then I’m like:
Where do I exist then?
Can I not speak about decolonial struggles because of my shade of brown?
Can I not speak about moving my ass?
Is brown not a shade of black?
I spent a lot of time finding all the terms that I use in a vulnerable way, saying ‘look, I’m not the ambassador of twerking, I’m not a fucking “Twerkqueen” I’m just out here trying to heal myself and trying to spread the word. And it’s not a business. I think people see the i-D spread that I actually dislike a lot because they took out the most important part of my message and they are like “oh she must be some kind of celebrity or something, she must be cashing in” and that’s not true.
I did have a certain visibility because of my privilege and because I work hard and i-D gave me that platform but there is so much more than that.
The ‘house negro’ versus the ‘field negro’ (referring to a concept by Malcolm X, editor’s note) is a master’s tool to hammer down our resistance, to break our union as people of color. The ‘house negro’ were the black people that were lighter skinned and therefore had privilege over the ‘field negro’ that were darker. There is also the Paper Bag test. The One Drop rule. They where all disgraceful tricks to undermine Black and Brown people’s psyche and to force them to identify either with whiteness and inclusion, or with blackness and exclusion.
Being a lighter skinned woman of color has its own dual politics and identitary blind-zones. I am all for discussing this, but as soon as something tells women of color “you can’t do this” I have a problem with it, whether its white supremacy or decolonial rhetorics.
Let’s talk more about activism itself. You hold Twerkshops, you produced a Youtube Show for kids, you make music and you obtain Ph.D. studies at the same time. Your activism is about healing yourself and healing others. How do you make sure not to forget caring about yourself being so busy?
Well, there is a concrete answer and an abstract one.
The concrete answer is: drinking loads of water, sleeping well and eating well. Drinking loads of water is so important, especially for women. We’re made out so much water, we shed our waters every month, water is a big part of our body.
And the abstract answer is: I try to strategize into turning my activism into something pleasurable.
I see a lot of activists, including myself at moments, fight so much and act so much and trying to dismantle and destroy. Sometimes we forget about joy and about building. I feel destroying is very quick, visible and ego-related, like this weird activist ego that people actually succumb to.
But building something is very slow and is like constant gardener sort of care.
It’s more pleasurable for me to be honest to build, than to destroy. So Twerking for me is literally speaking up. And it is a form of activism for me. When I do it in public spaces I am sending a clear message, which is: I am a sexual body, I am a pleasurable body – but that doesn’t mean that I am here to be taken. And it’s so pleasurable to do that. Its refreshing. When you get a certain articulation in your hips and a certain rhythm you really relax into something. And you’re taken care of by something bigger than you. And you’re channeling by what I call our Mother the Earth. You’re channeling god. It’s such a relief.
The computer in the head stops and that is when the body and the soul heal.
So for me pleasure is a strategy for activism. I think pleasure is power and pleasure is political.
Where do you get all your energy from? Activism is so tiring sometimes.
I try to sleep well, I don’t do drugs, like, I do acid sometimes, but I don’t do alcohol and tobacco.
I try to always be really active in the sisterhood because I feel that the sisterhood really charges my body.
I really have the feeling that I plug myself in and charge my battery when I find a fellow sister and we get to sit down and talk. It gives me the breath of life. So I try to keep that connection plugged and very present in my life. Living with the sisterhood is definitely something that helps me rest.
You gave a Twerkshop in Berlin. How did you experience the city?
Berlin is a very conflictive place.
I find it really crazy that a place that is so open to queer is so closed to people of color. I really felt rampant racism there. Just being with a friend in the street and he is Black and we’re getting looks. And first I was like: No, I must be tripping, cause I haven’t seen that for a while. And then he asked somebody for directions and that person literally looked at them in the most horrible way and we all know what that look means.
I was like what the fuck was that?
And he was like Dude, I get that every day. My experience of Berlin has always been very brief, I never lived there. But I could even feel it myself that people maybe assumed I was Turkish and there were definitely tensions in the everyday interactions and also of course the Fetishization of me as a woman of color.
What is your advice to Feminists that say Twerking exclusively serves the male gaze?
To get a grip. To google stuff. To get out of their white, supremacist so called feminist spaces they are in. To say that is to be really sexist and really racist.
Caren Miesenberger lebt, studiert und arbeitet eigentlich in Hamburg, tut dies aber gerade in Rio de Janeiro.
Sie interessiert sich für intersektionalen Feminismus und dafür, eine Verbündete für Menschen zu sein, die von mehr gesellschaftlicher Unterdrückung betroffen sind als sie selbst. Hat viel journalistisch, an der Uni und im Filmbereich gearbeitet. Wichtige Themen außerdem: Essen, Azealia Banks und das Internet.