“Your butt goes up and down. It’s all in your hips, not in your knees. Then bend over and make your ass shake.” Big Freedia, known as the “Queen of Bounce” and certified “twerk” expert, is teaching me over the phone how to shake my white-girl booty properly so I don’t hurt myself. “Practice in a mirror, that way you can see yourself,” she instructs. “Control your body and you can do things you thought you never could.”
I tell Freedia I’ll practice – alone, of course – in preparation for her show coming up at the Biltmore. As the interview continues, I learn I’ll be practicing a dance move that has had asses shaking since the early ‘90s. That’s right; “twerking” may have recently become a household term in mainstream pop culture (even the word itself has been added to the Oxford online dictionary), but it was born out of New Orleans from bounce rap; a sub-genre of hip hop known for its energetic “call and response” style, and Big Freedia herself is at the forefront of the movement.
Let’s take it back a minute to New Orleans, where Freedia was born Freddie Ross. Growing up in a musical household and singing in a Baptist church choir, eventually he became a backup dancer for Katey Red, one of the original “sissy bounce” rappers on the scene. Sure enough, Ross went out on his own and adapted the stage persona “Big Freedia Queen Diva” (calling himself “she”) and has been going hard ever since.
“I’m just trying to convert all of the power I’ve put in for so many years here in New Orleans, and get that same buzz all around the world, and it’s definitely happening.” And she couldn’t be more correct; she’s taken herself and her dancers, The Divas, on tours around the globe, has filmed the first season of her reality show “Bounce” on FUSE TV and in September she broke the world record for most people twerking in one place in New York (how did that not cause an earthquake?) She’s also working on a debut LP, Da Idol, and working towards a second season of her show. “I’ve been busy,” she says with a giggle.
To add to this, Freedia, who is openly gay, talks about being a proud representative and advocate for the LGBT community. “I’m just glad that I’m in an era that I can speak up for our community and to be a leader in the community and someone who can inspire people to be themselves. And to be bold and to be able to live out on a limb and not be afraid to be who they are.”
Her message of self-expression is certainly catching on as her fan base grows. She’s also seeing support from the hip hop community, which is a step forward considering the reputation the genre has of being homophobic. “The people in the hip hop industry, they respect me. A lot of them tilt their hats off to me because I’m not afraid to be who I am,” she says. “People are starting to look at things a little differently now.”
Freedia tells me the most important message is bounce is for the people. She doesn’t care who’s doing it, as long as there’s spirit involved in the movement. “Black, white, Asian, whatever. Do it, have fun, enjoy yourself and just do it.”
After 20 minutes of speaking with Freedia, I feel like I should pay her for her time. Listening to her wax poetic about her craft and self-expression was beyond therapeutic. I can only hope I’ll put my personal twerk lesson to work and make her proud.
Big Freedia performs at the Biltmore Cabaret on Wednesday November 20th.
By Katharine Sawchuk