Julian Goins, the 15-year-old leader of the Ranger$, a five-member jerking crew, hops onto the tips of his sneakers — the Tippy Toe — and then swivels his body ground-ward, legs crossed at the ankle. He pops up like a jack-in-the-box, spins and bounces, gliding backward in the Reject, a move that resembles nothing so much as the Running Man, an ’80s dance-floor step but in reverse.
The other kids in the schoolyard pay scant attention to the star in their midst. Until his Ranger$ schedule exploded and his mother decided to home-school him, Julian was just another student.
Goofy, gentle, nimbly amateurish, jerking was little known outside certain precincts of this sprawling city until a year ago. But in the last nine months or so, jerking began an unexpected run as an Internet phenomenon.
When the New Boyz — two teenagers who had been playing high school auditoriums — released “You’re a Jerk,” the song raced up the Billboard ladder, sold 750,000 copies on iTunes and another 400,000 ring tones, provided the duo with a base for a national tour and, of course, gave rise to untold copycats.
“Jerking started off in L.A. as just a little inner-city dance,” said one of the New Boyz, Earl Benjamin, 18, known as Ben J. “We used to search for it on YouTube and we noticed it had potential to be bigger than it was. It was like when you first saw break dancing: it has so many different parts, and when you get the dance down pat, you wanted to do it all the time. It reminded you of how fun hip-hop used to be.”