“It’s Not Just A Dance, It’s A Lifestyle” Real Harlemites Are Not Feeling The “New” Harlem Shake Dance Craze

February 20, 2013  |  

Source: YouTube.com

If you’re internet savvy, chances are you’ve stumbled across the “Harlem Shake” by now. And I’m not talking about the original Harlem Shake black folks have been doing since the ’80’s, popularized in 2001 by G Dep, Diddy and ‘nem in his “Let’s Get It” video.


I’m talking about the viral videos that feature groups of people jumping about, dry humping the air in masks and outrageous costumes dancing to a type of dance/techno song made by Brooklyn producer, Baauer. The song, which is over three minutes long, only features a single sentence of intelligible, English lyrics: “Do the Harlem Shake.” Perhaps the makers of the first “Harlem Shake” video that went viral didn’t take the time to actually research the original Harlem Shake. Instead, they just proceeded to gyrate about in Power Ranger costumes. And for whatever reason, the meme and subsequent videos spread like wildfire. If  you haven’t seem them, this is the new interpretation of the Harlem Shake. (In an attempt to promote our brother site’s efforts, I’m embedding Bossip’s Corporate Office edition below.  But if you want to see how the white folks, who are the majority of the meme’s participants are doing it, check out some more here. The underwater version is my favorite.)

Filmmaker, Chris McGuire, had just made a Harlem Shake dance meme video himself; but luckily, he didn’t stop there. He decided to do some research about the true origins of the dance. Here’s what he had to say about his discoveries:

Then I began researching it a little bit and discovered that the Harlem Shake was a whole other thing. I learned that it was a long-standing tradition in Harlem and that what people were doing had nothing to do with it. I wanted to add to the conversation.

I felt like someone who had sinned, and saw the error of his ways. As such, I decided to let the people of Harlem tell the world what they thought.

Given that the name ‘Harlem’ was part of this huge trend, and their dance the ‘Harlem Shake’ was their dance, I wanted to see what their perspective was.

It was pretty universal. They thought it was crap and had nothing to do with the dance or culture that they so proudly identified with.”

Check out McGuire’s video of real Harlemites responding to the dance meme.

There were a lot of opinions but not one of them was favorable. Did you hear homeboy say it was a way of life?! I don’t know about all of that since I haven’t seen anbodybreak that out in the club since 2006; but there’s no way that anyone could argue that the dance is not culturally significant. In fact, after a quick Wikipedia search, I learned that it was deeper than I’d originally imagined. In 2003, Inside Hoops interviewed Al B, the man credited with bringing the dance to Rucker Park and later Harlem around 1981. The dance was originally named after him: “albee,” and later changed. Al B described the dance as a “drunken shake,” that originated in ancient Egypt. “Yes. It was a drunken dance, you know, from the mummies, in the tombs. That’s what the mummies used to do. They was all wrapped up and taped up. So they couldn’t really move, all they could do was shake.”  Other sources say it derived from an Ethiopian dance called “Eskista.” Judging by the videos, the Eskista theory seems more plausible to me.

So now the question remains, does the new Harlem Shake meme disrespect the origins and cultural significance of the original dance? Or is this just another case of white folks grabbing a hold of something started in the black community and making it more popular?

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  • QueenOfLife

    When I 1st heard about the “new” Harlem Shake, I thought that they brought the original Harlem Shake back until I saw it Lol I dont see how you could make a totally new dance and name it after an old one Lol I already knew ppl from Harlem would have something to say about that. The video of the lil Ethiopian girls look a bit different than the original Harlem Shake, but they were cute.

  • aroth

    I seriously doubt that anyone here in Ethiopia would really wish to have their beautiful Eskista associated in any way with the totally bastardized dance referred to as Harlem shake. Eskista is truly a thing of beauty when done properly. It takes real devotion to attain expertise and Ethiopians are very proud of their dance. By the way I am a 70 year old white man who appreciates and stands behind the cultural dances of this area 100%!!

  • the Harlem Sheik

    PLs! Everybody! Watch the instructional dance vids on youtube. Now,… I’m still glad there’s still crazy whi’fokes just having fun. It’s whimsy! Lightenen up! Mebbe they won’t grow up to be humorless Republicans or something. Like it or not, express yourself… (responsibly).

  • chanela

    oh god. PLEASE stfu wit this crap! it’s referred to as “harlem shake” because of the song! the song by bauuer is called harlem shake! smh getting mad over nothing. nobody is saying they are DOING the harlem shake, it’s just the name of the song the guys used for their silly video. calm down!

    i wish folks were mad like this about violence in chicago and baby mamaism….

  • TK

    Love the Ethiopian dance!
    The deeper issue that hits the nerves is that no matter what it’s called- “White america” has a long history of grabbing hold of “black america’s” music, dance, and general style and calling it their own and then it’s suddenly popular. While this alone isn’t a bad thing but any credit or inspiration is never given it’s proper dues and thus creating ill feelings. This happens in many different areas of art and culture-it’s just a reoccurring theme in with us Blacks. Great example: When did RAP become HIP HOP-when it became popular and accepted into mainstream America..now rap as we knew it is dead.
    This trend old and annoying.

  • FromUR2UB

    Can someone copyright a dance? If so, then the folks who want to claim it should videotape it and submit it to the copyright office in DC. Otherwise, why does everything have to be a “lifestyle”? When it’s a lifestyle, that means you’re supposed to do it foreverrrrrrr. Believe in fads.

  • How people goanna get offended by the title of the song, when there songs like
    “bands make her dance”. you can’t all of sudden get offended
    off of a name of song, yet there’s songs that are much more offensive not only
    towards black women I mean come on people then have the nerve a
    throw the word history in the mix

  • ZakiaJ

    The guy with the scarf on his head talking about “It’s a lifestyle”, was doing the most!!! It’s not that serious!
    The man with the boxing gloves is awesome, I love meeting old school people like that! The guy at the end of the video said ” Harlem shake is not what it used to be and needs to come back”, if it needs to come back then obviously it wasn’t that important in the first place…whats the problem? So confused

    The Ethiopian girl was getting it though! I love their culture

  • Tonyoardee

    New Yprkers have a problem with everything under the sun, it’s just a dance, get over it. Be happy that hip hop has so much cross over appeal and everybody can have fun with it

  • marie epps

    Ethiopian dance was beautiful

  • It’s a fukkin dance. Get over it.

    • Tyquinn

      You clearly do not have value for substance, heritage or history.

  • For some morning clarification on this ”Harlem shake” the song is called Harlem shake not the dance lmao the song is by a kid Harry Rodrigues, known by his stage name Baauer, he is an American producer from Brooklyn, New York. This is message is for all the ppl who live in Harlem who for some reason is offended by this new dance crazy it’s not a remake of the old one

    • Rayjulian85

      Then shouldn’t it have a different name? It’s offensive because the actual Harlem Shake *really* is a part of the Harlem culture and its *now* associated with people putting on weird masks and gyrating like fools.

    • QueenOfLife

      Is this guy making any money from this or just recognition from the YouTube videos?

  • That little girl on Ethiopian Idol was working those shoulders!

    • kierah

      I’m saying! She is living her life like it’s golden with that dance!

      • kylea

        Mmhm she better work! lol

  • Lol

    I love ittttttt. “Harlem don’t dress like that.”
    “That’s West 4th street dancing.”