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Harmless Dance or Harlem-Less Dance?

New Internet meme sweeps nation, but is it a disgrace?

by Published: Feb 27, 2013

“Con los terroristas!”

Yes, we all know what that means. Well, it actu­ally means “with the ter­ror­ists” if you know any Spanish. But to the rest of the world, it marks the begin­ning of American pro­ducer Bauer’s new hit song and the “new” dance craze/Internet meme.

It begins with a masked char­ac­ter oddly mov­ing his limbs or thrust­ing, while all around him peo­ple seem to be car­ry­ing on with busi­ness as usual. Twenty sec­onds later, the orig­i­na­tor is joined by a mob of peo­ple going crazy, “danc­ing” with odd objects and cos­tumes and doing any obnox­ious move­ments you can think of. Even Ferris, with Brutus as the star, has joined in on this “Harlem Shake.”

One prob­lem: It’s not the Harlem Shake.

The true Harlem Shake began in 1981, and was first called the albee. Though the roots of the dance can sup­pos­edly be traced to Ethiopia and a dance called Eskista, a man named Al B started it in Harlem. The actual dance involves shak­ing of the hips and shoul­ders and arms, and then can be mod­i­fied as seen fit based on the dancers’ preferences.

Considering that I look like a fish out of water when I dance and have not a grace­ful or fluid bone in my body, the true Harlem Shake looks incred­i­ble. I envy the rhythm, flow and cre­ativ­ity the dancers exhibit. The way they move their bod­ies is unnat­ural and cap­ti­vat­ing, so maybe that’s why I took a lik­ing to the new Harlem Shake craze at first.

Because it involves no actual dancing.

I related to these Internet-crazed Harlem Shake pro­po­nents because they looked as ridicu­lous as me. I recently par­tic­i­pated in one of these videos with a group of my friends. I was “jam­ming” and mov­ing to Baauer’s super sick beat–never mind that I was air thrust­ing some­one rid­ing a cane and spank­ing him­self like a pony and we were dressed as old people…it was cool?

So when I watched the real Harlem Shake as well as a video of Harlem respond­ing to this new craze, I felt a lit­tle silly. Some com­ments were anger filled, oth­ers were humor­ous, but the mes­sage was all the same. One of my favorites: “That’s not the Harlem Shake at all; that’s humpin’.”

Based on my recent Harlem Shake endeavor and the count­less oth­ers I’ve seen, I think that Harlem res­i­dent nailed it, sadly.

“It’s an absolute mock­ery of what it was because there’s actu­ally a sense of rhythm that goes along with it,” one woman said.

Whether jok­ing or seri­ous, the com­mon theme was a feel­ing of dis­re­spect and mock­ery of the not only their dance, but also their culture.

So this Harlem Shake, is it a harm­less craze or, as requested by count­less peo­ple in the inter­view, do we need to “stop that sh*t!”?

To me it’s just another exam­ple of how white peo­ple can’t dance (note the jok­ing stereotype/generalization–don’t take this and run with it and call me a racist; I’m white and I can’t dance) and use this as an excuse. But it is a good les­son of being respect­ful of other cul­tures, though I fear there’s no stop­ping this craze any­time soon, despite des­per­ate pleas of the Harlem peo­ple. It will just have to run its course.

A final quote by one of the Harlem res­i­dents in the video: “He’s humpin’ his man! That’s no good.”

No, my Harlem friend, it prob­a­bly isn’t. But soon the new “Gangnam Style” will pass away, and I believe the true Harlem Shake will hold its roots forever.

So have your fun now, in your own home­town. But don’t even think about doing the Harlem Shake in Harlem. According to one girl, “Y’all will get hurt.”