As a child, Tricia Diamond once woke up to find the most beautiful woman she had ever seen asleep on her parent's sofa. Diamond watched her sleep, noting how flawless her skin was up close. Diamond’s parents let the woman and her children spend the night to help put space between the woman and her abusive husband.
In the hazy, music mecca of 1970s Los Angeles, it wasn't unusual for Tricia to find her parent’s friends occupying the family couch after a night of revelry—Tricia’s father, Billy Diamond, was an accomplished New Orleans jazz musician and music manager for folks including Fats Domino, and the Diamond household was often abuzz with musicians of the era. It was common for Charles Mingus or Miles Davis to pop by for a visit or for Tricia to go out and play with the Jackson kids down the street. On that specific morning, Tricia took care not to wake the sleeping beauty, Tina Turner, or her boys sprawled across their living room.
Given the depth of her musical upbringing, it should be no surprise Diamond found her own path in the arts, through dance. Starting with early private lessons from tap luminary Al Gilbert, she went on to study dance internationally in various styles, from ballet to modern dance. When she returned to her father’s hometown of New Orleans she found herself in the beginnings of New Orleans bounce music, and she and her crew became some of the first purveyors of the dance style we now know as “twerking.”
Today, Diamond teaches classes all over the Seattle area through Seattle Twerkshop. Ahead of the twerk competition at the Crocodile on April 8—with a $1,000 grand prize—she talked about finding joy in dance, how she became a New Orleans Baby Doll, and her new position as co-chair for the Seattle Human Rights Council.
You danced internationally before settling in New Orleans. What was your experience like there?
My house was right off of Claiborne Avenue, which means it was right under the tent bridge and under the Claiborne bridge. Every Sunday we had “Second Line Sunday,” but we also hadtTwerking going on on the weekend so people from all over Orleans Parish, Louisiana sometimes from all over the South, came—you’re just having fun dancing and playing music on the bridge.
Being in New Orleans and dancing, you quickly realize the dance is about joy, it’s about communicating a joy of living, joy of being able to move your body, connecting with others, and it’s about celebration. Dancing is about love of all stages of your life! We dance because we love our souls, we love one another, not because we hate.
My father always said that the key to life was moving. The key to living long is about appreciating the energy that is contained in our bodies. Using that energy, you are connecting with the universe. All life is about energy, and dance is one of the ultimate demonstrations of energy transfer! You can keep that energy insular or you can use that energy to draw others in and engage them.
When did you notice twerk culture becoming part of mainstream culture?
I think we really have to give it up to Big Freedia for becoming truly mainstream, but I know in terms of videos, if you really go back to “Rump Shaker” from Wreckx-n-Effect, or now I think about City Girls and Cardi B doing twerk, and that’s when I think that Claiborne experience really became mainstream in terms of video.
What do you think is the most misunderstood part of the art form? I know there was reluctance to call it “twerking” in Seattle when you initially started.
I mean, everything in life has a sexualized aspect about it, but I think, unfortunately, with twerking, people think that there’s not a lot of skill to it or it is simply about sex. It’s also an art form. Too many people around here teaching twerk, or thinking that they’re twerking in classes, do the same two or three moves, and there are over 200 different twerk moves and they all have names.
Another misunderstood aspect is that although the word and concept came from New Orleans, twerking originally came from West Africa, so I wish more people would put more respect on Africa and West Africa as where twerking originated and continues to develop.
What should people know about the New Orleans Baby Doll tradition?
Baby Dolls began in 1912 as a masking tradition for Black women in New Orleans. I am a Baby Doll Lady by the name of Baby Doll Holla Fame, which pays homage to my father being the catalyst for one of New Orleans's greatest musical artists, Fats Domino, and being taught by another legendary artist, Louis Armstrong, and that my grandfather was a Negro League baseball player.
My induction included not only a dancing audition but also being knowledgeable of the history of music and dance in New Orleans. We are ambassadors and keepers of the flame of Baby Doll Masking tradition as descendants of, and as, Afro-Creole women.
Baby Doll tradition also has roots in the rights of New Orleans Black sex workers. You are an activist focusing on the rights of sex workers and recently became co-chair of the Seattle Human Rights Council. What do you hope to accomplish?
Sex work is work, and I want to concentrate my efforts on the safety, security, and respect of sex work, as well as address human trafficking in Seattle. I lived in a country where sex work was legal, the Netherlands, therefore coming back to the United States, and knowing major sporting events such as the World Cup tend to increase human trafficking associated with sex work in countries where sex work is criminalized, I hope to collaborate with our city officials on ways in which we can truly model addressing a successful strategy to mitigate human trafficking in Seattle before the World Cup.
We need a specific strategy for human trafficking and too often people use the excuse of the intersectionality of issues to avoid addressing trafficking while we need a specific strategy and I hope we can do that with a specific plan.
The Seattle Twerkshop Contest and Party is Sat April 8 at the Crocodile, 10 pm, $20, entry is free for contestants, 21+. First prize is $1,000, second prize is $500, and third prize is $250. Learn more at seattletwerkshop.com. For discounted tickets, use code 2TWERKSCL.