Published on February 27, 2013 | by Rosie Conroy


Do the Harlem Shake!


The internet has made everyone’s half-baked Saturday night video ideas into a reality. The latest in a stream of recent viral sensations is The Harlem Shake.

Leaving Gangham Style behind in a cloud of Korean pop dust comes this latest dancing fad.

However, instead of the music video and the associated artist dictating the dance moves, this latest YouTube hit has seen users set the rules, with no direction from the artist whose song people are dancing to.

YouTube user ‘Filthy Frank’ originally sparked interest by recording a short video with himself and friends dressed in neon full body suits dancing to the dance music produced by 22-year-old Swedish DJ Baauer.

Sunny Coast Skate

But it was two days later that really set the bar on how this craze would develop.

A group of Australian students, calling themselves The Sunny Coast Skate, uploaded their version.

One of the group, of five boys, dances alone while the others in the group ignore the lone mover going about mundane tasks, then when the chorus kicks in all of them start dancing, gyrating and jerking to the fast bass line of the chorus.

Celebrities have also been quick to jump on the craze while it is still popular.

This is more or less how every follow up video has gone, there is often someone masked and someone in underwear but always the video starts with the solitary dancing figure to later be joined by those around him/her in a frenzied fist pumping, humping of the floor or hip swinging in a 30-second clip filmed from an unsteady phone or webcam.

There have been numerous attempts to create the biggest Harlem Shake with events organised on a huge scale in locations such as Trafalgar Square, Times Square, Manchester and Mexico.

Celebrities have also been quick to jump on the craze while it is still popular.

One of the most viewed Harlem Shake videos is one from backstage at Fashion Week where supermodels Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn and Rosie Tapner perform their own routine backstage at the Topshop show.

Meme went viral

It has been just over two weeks since the meme went viral, and what a two weeks it has been. From page three girls to sports teams and from the military to news broadcasters – everybody seems to be following the in the steps of a bunch of teenagers, who were quite clearly just bored.

But as is the nature of today’s fleeting attention spans, The Harlem Shake is doomed to failure while still in its infancy.

As all things which excel quickly the Harlem Shake has by all appearances reached its peak and is teetering on the edge of a steep decline, to the bottomless pit of movements which have been tarred with phrases similar to ‘so over’.

 “Most traditionalists are sticking to their story that the first cult Harlem Shake is in fact more than thirty years old.”

Before everyone and their granny, literally, started filming themselves dancing (dancing being a loose term here, it usually makes them look a lot like the unfortunate victims of a mass epileptic attack) there was a history to this little shuffle.

Albeit quite a far removed correlation exists between the original and the more recent fad, but nonetheless here is how the first one went down.

Most traditionalists are sticking to their story that the first cult Harlem Shake is in fact more than thirty years old.

A homeless man called Al B is credited with the creation of the dance which consists of little more than wild jerking of the arms and upper body which he performed during intervals at the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic at Rucker Park in Harlem.

The key difference between the two is a sense of rhythm – he had one.


Members of the community of Harlem have been filmed in their own video reacting to the craze, and it would be fair to say that they are less than impressed.

Among authentic Harlem Shake demonstrations and mocking the new dance craze there are some in the video who feel like people are being disrespectful and insulting to their history.

“That’s not the Harlem shake, we need our respect,” says one interviewee.

“If you’re not from Harlem don’t do anything associated with it. Don’t try and be someone you’re not basically, stick to your roots,” recommends another.

Way back on February 11, YouTube reported that more than 4,000 Harlem Shake videos were being uploaded every day, with the expectation that this figure would continue to rise.

YouTube trend manager, Kevin Alloca recently wrote a short blog post dedicated to the videos and thinks that, “The beauty of this one is its sheer simplicity,” he said.

 “It’s not dependent on language, which makes its potential audience even bigger.” Kevin Alloca, YouTube trend manager

He also added that: “There are really only a few basic elements and it can be effectively reproduced with little technical know-how, but it also leaves enough room for people to make it their own.

“It’s not dependent on language either, which makes its potential audience even bigger.”

Aside from YouTube, the other obvious beneficiary of all the hype is Baauer. He posted the track online two years ago to significantly less of an audience that he has become used to in the past couple of weeks.

As a result of the multitude of copycat videos his single is currently enjoying third place in the Official Charts, and the artist tweeted last week to say the phenomenon was: “blowing my mind.”

Measure of irony

What might make liking this pointless trend easier on the conscience of anyone who has watched a video is that they can look back on it in years to come with a measure of irony.

Liking things at the time, such as the Spice Girls or the Teletubbies – when you were well above the target demographic – is OK when years down the line you can revisit it with sarcasm as if you had always only enjoyed it as part of a larger social mocking and always understood the satirical undercurrents.

And so, if you are planning a Harlem shake you had better do it in the next couple of days before it becomes firmly dead and buried under the next internet sensation.

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