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Jerk It Out

Off Campus | December 6, 2009

While most of us had never even heard of jerking until the New Boyz came out with that effervescent bundle of music called “You’re A Jerk”, our ears and limbs are now under siege by a phenomenon that has been brewing on the West Coast for some time now.

This new style took off in Los Angeles after earlier crazes brought to light by the b-boys in the case of breakdancing and the thizzers in the case of Hyphy. The New Boyz, the moniker of the dynamic duo Ben J and Legacy, have helped to bring this isolated dance movement not only to the foreground of pop culture but from the West Coast to the East Coast.  Their hit single “You’re A Jerk” has reached sales of over 750,000 on iTunes, aided by the quirky duo’s street charm and erratic dance moves.

One of the more inspirational forces in jerking, the New Boyz had performed in high school auditoriums around Los Angeles, inspiring legions of younger jerkers-to-be to flock to YouTube for visual instruction on the dance’s characteristic moives, involving multiple quick jerks of the body interspersed with some spinning, flips, and handstands.

Popular YouTube videos that helped to fuel the jerk movement include “Jerkin in Jerkville” by the L.A.-based jerk crew the Ranger$, which was released on May 22 of this year and has garnered almost 3.5 million views. “Jerkin’ Somethin’ Serious”, released on Februrary 1, has over a million views while “White Boys Jerkin’” by the UCLA Jerk Kings, one of the few Caucasian jerk crews on the West Coast has nearly 3 million. The immense popularity of these videos shows just how quickly the movement is catching on.

While performing their jaunty jerks, dancers often wear skinny jeans and sneakers in bright hues with fitted T-shirts. The look isn’t complete without a hat and a chain or two. The style is a self-proclaimed blend of 80s, skater, and hip-hop styles, which many note is a conspicuous backlash to the baggy attire normally associated with hip-hop.

If you’ve ever watched any of the myriad videos available for your viewing pleasure on YouTube, you may have noticed some of the younger jerkers wearing backpacks (the youngest member of the Ranger$ starts their most popular video by showing off his Power Rangerst tote). Many of the dancers look like they just walked out of fifth-period pre-calc, and many of them probably did- jerking is incredibly popular among high school students, although the trend is gathering many younger and older followers.

One of the most popular venues for an impromptu dance sesh is in the school parking lot or playground right after classes let out for the day. Many dancers break it down in the middle of busy streets, dodging cars and pedestrians which ultimately lends a less contrived and choreographed feel that harkens back to the days of old-school hip-hop dance and breakdancing.

While still largely a West Coast phenomenon, jerking is slowly but surely working its way to the East Coast and, in particular, the Boston area. Jerk crews like The Good Ki iDz/TGK are cropping up and their mission goes beyond jerking as they write on their blog “we’re young adults who’re striving for success in our futures. Our goal isn’t to be known, but to be remembered.”

A website called East Coast Jerking (www.bostonjerks.ning.com) focuses particularly on the development of Boston-area jearking, providing forums for discussion and a server space for crews to upload videos and create interactive profiles.

Many believe that herking might be here to stay. Unlike the Soulja Boy or the Cupid Shuffle, the origins of jerking are on the streets, not in the studio. While it has been much more popular since the release of “You’re A Jerk”, jerking has been a part of West Coast life for years. Jerking is also more than just a dance movement; it has an entire style associated with it that permeates its audience and transcends fleeting trends. No one was cranking that Soulja Boy in L.A. before the single was released.

Others speculate that jerking is just another fad that will fall out of popularity just as quickly as it grew. Only time will tell, and a transplant to the East Coast is a major indicator of its tenacity. The more kids we see dancing in the Boston streets in bright, tight clothing, the more  likely jerking is here to stay.