“That’s not the shake…”: Why the Harlem Shake craze is a misnomer

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The Harlem Shake is one of the fastest spreading viral crazes that we’ve seen. There has been a crazy number of parodies (even the Peanuts make an appearance). We Berkeleyans have put on our very own version. Plus, we’ve even written two articles about it already! And it’s all for a surreal dance fad around a 30-second clip taken from a Baauer song of the same name. But what most of the nation doesn’t know is that the Harlem Shake as depicted in these videos isn’t the real Harlem Shake. Actual Harlem residents who were shown some of these “Harlem Shakes” laughed at the hokey dances and, on a heavier note, called them a blatant mockery of the dance they grew up with.

What is the real Harlem Shake? The dance was started in Harlem in 1981 by resident Al-B and spread quickly around urban areas. In 2001, the dance was featured in G. Dep’s video for his track “Let’s Get It,” which propelled the dance into the mainstream [x]. As explained in the reaction video, Harlem’s residents embraced it as their dance and as an art form, demonstrated by a few through artful bodily shakes and shoulder shimmying. To them, this new craze is a half-assed attempt at the dance they hold close to their hearts, if its participants know of the original tradition at all. Plus, can you imagine the confusion it must be causing on both ends if people are inquiring about  “Harlem Shake lessons” in Harlem?

Of course, it’s natural to play the blame game. Do we point our fingers at Baauer, who decided to name his song after the dance and thus give the Internet an opportunity? Or can we blame the original Harlem Shakers for the dance itself? It may seem silly to point fingers, especially since it’s just a silly internet fad, right? But there’s a fine line between Internet lulz and serious Internet appropriation. Especially due to the response the dance has gotten from the Harlem community, where do we draw the line? Will the Harlem Shake live in infamy as a hilariously annoying dance fad, or will the honor be returned to the original? Some deep food for thought brought to you by the Clog.

Image source: Henry Ascencio, The Daily Californian (original).

A former version of this post spelled Baauer’s name incorrectly.