The Harlem Shake: the latest Internet craze

Students from Stony Brook University in New York participating in their own versionof The Harlem Shake. (max_wei / Flickr)

The “Harlem Shake” has become the latest dance craze blowing up on the internet, but it is not without controversy.

Videos of the dance have amassed hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube. The videos have included a version by the Norwegian Army, an oddly wholesome rendition by the Playboy Bunnies in a photography studio, an impressive underwater rendering by the University of Georgia swim team, and a college-basketball-themed performance from the Sports Illustrated swimsuit models in Las Vegas.

The video, about thirty seconds long, shows a group of usually-costumed (and often deliberately uncostumed, if you catch my drift) individuals, utilizing a variety of unusual props as they dance to the first thirty seconds of the song entitled “Harlem Shake” by Baauer, which recently debuted at number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. For the first 15 seconds, only one individual dances while all others in the video are unaware. When the bass kicks, the video cuts to all individuals on-camera dancing.

Although this internet sensation has gained its name from the title of the Baauer song “Harlem Shake”, the attachment of the Harlem Shake phenomenon to Harlem itself has created a rift amongst the individuals from Harlem, New York.

In a video captured by filmmaker Chris McGuire, he visits Harlem to speak to residents about the recent video craze. The response gathered by the residents is nothing but pure shock and infuriation.

One resident stated when interviewed by McGuire when shown a clip of a “Harlem Shake” video, “That’s not the Harlem shake at all. That’s humpin’, and that’s not the Harlem Shake.”

Another Harlem resident expressed their feelings of impudence, stating “It’s actually an art form, a dance art form that doesn’t have the respect that it should deserve.”

An additional resident verbalized their attitude towards the videos as a movement that has misrepresented their city: “That represents Jersey; California. That is not Harlem.”

The original Harlem Shake dance was created by Harlem resident Al B in 1981. In a 2003 interview with InsideHoops.com, Al B explained that the dance is “… a drunken shake anyway, it’s an alcoholic shake, but it’s fantastic, everybody loves it and everybody appreciates it. And it’s glowing with glory. And it’s respected.”

The Harlem Shake gained movement through the 1980s and 1990s, but really picked up momentum in the 2000s with the release of the song “Let’s Get It” from rapper G. Dep. The video featured several children who had mastered the dance. G. Dep also included the Harlem Shake in his video for his song “Special Delivery”.

Many other musicians followed suit by including the Harlem Shake in the choreography for their music videos, including “Take You Home” by Lil’ Bow Wow, “Put Ya Hands Up” by Jadakiss, “Who’s That Girl?” by Eve, and “Dilemma” by Nelly and Kelly Rowland.

While the viral videos vaguely capture the spirit of the original dance with the joyous, sporadic movements, the physical dance movements in the viral videos rarely resemble an art form. The dancing in the viral videos lacks the spirituality and expression of the individual’s inner soul that is exhibited through the manifestation of the original version of the dance.

The Harlem Shake viral videos have become a popular trend on college and university campuses across North America, varying from small groups of people to campus wide videos. Clips have been made by the University of Guelph, Western University, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Toronto, and Queen’s University, to name a few.

The Brandon University Men’s basketball team also has their own bawdy version on YouTube, which has collected over 2,800 views. The video alternatingly depicts members of the team in exercising in the Healthy Living Centre fitness room and the basketball court. One member of the team is shown dancing while wearing the Bobcats’ mascot’s head. At the 16 second mark, the other basketball players become involved, with most seen thrusting on fitness equipment or moving spastically.

Brandon University has decided to hop on The Harlem Shake bandwagon, with an event planned for Friday, March 1st at 2:30 pm in the cafeteria. There is no particular theme or the video. Individuals who wish to participate are encouraged to bring props of their choosing and may dress in costume.

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 103, Issue 22, February 26, 2013.