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?