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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.”