“In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change. For women, this has meant a suppression of the erotic as a considered source of power and information within our lives”

Uses of the Erotic, Audre Lorde

Dance is about “deprogramming and reverting back to the original, “ states Bobbi, co-founder of the #FREETHECHEEKS movement. Within these dance classes, dance is directly linked to systematic freedom; “you tap into your power and you free yourself and [inevitably] you free your family,” and then you free a whole community or environment.

There are infinite ways to be divinely feminine. One form of expression is delivered through movement; dance. Such sacred practices have historically been taken away and cooped from women of color. Many black women in the Diaspora have spent years shying away from sensual movement or dancing at all, feeling as if their bodies will quickly link to the measure of their sexuality. The repression of our natural feminine state may lead to blockages of the erotic power — blockages that can affect all avenues.

In this space is where I found myself months ago. As a child, whenever I expressed myself through movement I was ridiculed and made to feel shame. Growing up I found ways to bring less attention to myself, and a way of survival quickly became the exclusion of dance. Somewhere along the line, I convinced myself and others I just did not like movement. I think of all of the lives I have led and how much more free I would have flowed if only I would have tapped into movement.

Last year, I relocated across the country, I was still feeling the barriers placed around my erotic power. I set out to free what I believed was just my yoni. I attended a healing retreat for black women at a meditation center, and mantras and spiritual dancing did not do the job. However, it became obvious it was part of a larger journey because I was invited to #TWERKCHURCH. I was intrigued, and I attended the very same night.

#FREETHECHEEKS is a movement that was birthed by real sisters Breezy and Bobby. Breezy, the eldest sister is training to become a massage therapist, and Bobbi is a trained massage therapist and pole dance educator. While they have both built the #FREETHECHEEKS movement from the ground up, they reject the word entrepreneur and find joy in the hustle. In the name of bustle and spirit, they are dismantling the erotic, sensuality, and the roles played by black female bodies. Through sister circles and dance practices based in Oakland, they are reimagining what it means to take back power. The sisters have already taken the #FREETHECHEEKS movement to all regions of the country; however, their schedule is consistent in Oakland.

Every weekend, #FREETHECHEEKS allots two hours at distinct black-owned, dance studios. Saturdays are dedicated to twerking; it is a day of reclaiming the dance form specifically because it has been co-opted and looked down upon when practiced by black women. Sundays are considered #TwerkChurch — twerking is still involved, but there is an emphasis on sensuality and the divine feminine.

“The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.”

When one walks into the space, the studio lights are brightly beaming down on the participants. Breezy and Bob’s younger sisters (yes, this is a family event) sweep the floors and set up an altar. Breezy begins by burning palo santo and sage, and Bob sets up the music. A sheet is placed in the middle, and then participants make their way sitting in a way that forms a circle around the sheet. The women who make up the circle come from all walks of life — life long dancers, first time dancers, sex workers, academic students, wives, mothers, educators, therapists, artists, folks from affluent families, folks from low income families, women originally from the Bay and Bay Area transplants (to name a few). Despite the many differences, the circle serves to bond and bridge.The lights stay on as if it to communicate that we must see one another. Once in the sister circle, Bob usually sets a prompt but encourages women to speak from their heart. Every woman has the time they need to share where they are at. Due to the created space, most women shed off their mask and take the risk of being real.

In a world where everything is timed, removing the social construct heals. Sometimes the sister circle takes five to eight minutes, other times it takes 45 minutes. The dance time is always prioritized, but is always guided by the energy of the women in the room. Still the classes do not feel rushed to the participants or the instructors. “As black people,” Bob explains, “we are good on our feet; when things aren’t working we know we can switch them.” This understanding is something the duo felt necessary to transfer into the sacred place of #FREETHECHEEKS.

“… the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy, in the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, harkening to its deepest rhythms so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, or examining an idea.”

The dancing portion of the class begins with a warm up in which women are encouraged to begin disconnecting and physically letting go. The lights in the room are dimmed. The class is always about the collective, and during this section, participants are encouraged to dive into their individualism. Next, the routine is taught and rehearsed countlessly, depending on where the collective body is. By the end of class, smaller groups get to demonstrate where they are while every single sister in room observes and cheers them on. It is magical to watch women transform from tight-lipped first day participants, to liberated beings on the dance floor. Participants claim that the confidence and power they tap into during these classes transfer to almost every other segment of their lives.

“But this erotic charge is not easily shared by women who continue to operate under an exclusively european-american male tradition.”

While dance classes outside of the movement do not begin with a sister circle, or anything that resembles it, Breezy states that it is fundamental for the instructors to tap into “what people’s bodies will allow them to do for that day.” This awareness was not present in the classes the sisters participated in before they made their own.

The sisters began their movement in 2015 when, after heavily attending other spaces seeking dance and healing, they were met with instructors that did not uplift all women. “Your [past instructors] say you’re about women’s sexiness, but you’re more about the money,” stated Bob. The studios in Oakland were often overpacked with a mixed demographics that was “attempting to assimilate with hipster culture.” The rooms almost always filled with “catty behavior and competition,” an air that did not satisfy the healing component of dancing they yearned for. In addition, the dance practices were taught in ways that aimed to conform black women’s body to moves that did not feel natural. Bobbi recalls being made fun of at an outside studio when she couldn’t get moves down. “We couldn’t find what we were looking for, so we had to create it," Breezy stated.

“Our classes are created for you to level up,” stated Bobbi. When female bodies enter the space with masks on and ready to compete as they have been socialized to do, the space becomes toxic, and it is something #FREETHECHEEKS has witnessed and has worked hard to push back on. When the space is safe and left open to interpretation, it thrives. The foundations of the movement work to establish a balance between sisterhood, individualism and anti-patriarchy. The foundation is upheld in order to ensure a safe environment for every black female that is there to heal, regardless to where she is on the dance spectrum.

“In order to be utilized, our erotic feelings must be recognized. The need for sharing deep feeling is a human need. But within the european-american tradition, this need is satisfied by certain proscribed erotic comings-together. These occasions are almost always characterized by a simultaneous looking away, a pretense of calling them something else, whether a religion, a fit, mob violence, or even playing doctor. And this misnaming of the need and the deed give rise to that distortion which results in pornography and obscenity — the abuse of feeling.”

In affinity, together, that’s how we, black women, heal and take back our natural powers. Left alone to explore the ways in which we show up in the world, left alone to lean on one another. Yet this process doesn’t necessarily have many spaces it thrives, especially not publicly, due to stigmas, internalized challenges and/or external barriers.

Still, the sister duo is making it happen in Oakland. The movement is timely. Women of color, specifically black women, have always been aware of their power, but we are now using our power as a resource unapologetically; not necessarily because we have been granted permission from the white gaze, but because we are supporting and healing in spaces that are inclusive and welcoming to the way we show up. Black women are powerful, and movements like #FREETHECHEEKS, created by us and for us, affirm this.