by Taylor Baird
Alright, we’ve all heard of it. This “new craze” called the Harlem Shake that may or may not be taking over Gangnam Style. News travels a little slower up the mountain to our beloved Sewanee so I’ll be honest that I’m still not exactly sure what this Harlem Shake deal is all about. Thanks to YouTube and Facebook, however, I’ve been able to make up for lost time. I’ve watched a plethora of 30 second videos of the Harlem Shake and I’ll warn you that they are addictive. The videos may be short but they pack a lot of dancing.
To begin, a lone dancer starts, dare I say, gyrating amongst innocent bystanders, coworkers, or friends. You’re thinking to yourself “what is going on,” but just at that moment when you’re debating clicking on that random recommended video on your side bar, the bass drops. Out of nowhere the lone dancer is surrounded by others and everyone is dancing and engaging in some excessive hip-thrusting. What claims to be the original video stars only a few friends, but videos have surfaced of the University of Georgia men’s swim team doing the Harlem Shake underwater, students taking over the library at Colorado College, and even Pepsi incorporating it into their new advertisement.
The fad, however, has caused some confusion and it turns out that these new videos that seem to be surfacing every day on YouTube, are nothing close to the real Harlem Shake that has been around since 1981. The name itself is self-explanatory and although Conan O’Brien seems to think it sounds “like a 19th century disease you would catch in a windowless sweatshop,” the dance is real and has a deep history.
The Harlem Shake originated in Harlem and is credited to a well known street dancer, Al B. The dance, which apparently has Ethiopian roots, gained popularity when Harlem native Sean Combs (P. Diddy to most) picked it up. The real original Harlem Shake has true rhythm, incorporating fancy footwork and quick upper body movements. The Harlem Shake was born at a time when gang violence was rampant, and the dance was a way for people to come together and channel their energy in a positive way. I’m not from Harlem myself but it seems pretty obvious that those who appreciate dance and whom are true Harlemites, are less than impressed with these new videos. The current videos display a dance that is nothing like the original and although it is funny, I think we should all take a minute to respect where the real dance came from. If you haven’t heard of either, take a quick break and browse them on YouTube.
I have to admit that deep down I think the Harlem Shake and all of its uproar is a little over the top. I would much rather procrastinate on Tumblr than watch these absurd videos. Yet, I find myself guilty of hopping on the bandwagon of this new “craze” and to some degree I secretly hope that Sewanee films its own Harlem Shake video before all of this madness dies down. Let us remember though that this dance should not be a mockery of the true Harlem Shake and that filming such a video should be more about the student body coming together. So, I am officially passing on the torch to some brilliant mind here that might be brave enough to organize something of the sort. Now do the Sewanee Shake?