Dialect Magazine

Shake it up | The Evolution of The Harlem Shake

hsThe whole world seems to be shaking right now. However, what many may not realize is that this “new” dance craze isn’t really new. The Harlem Shake became mainstream in 2001 when Harlem, New York rapper, G-Dep featured the dance in his music video “Let’s Get It“. {watch video below}

Fast forward to 2013. Just last month, the viral spread of the dance has become a phenomenon. On February 10, the upload rate of Harlem Shake videos reached 4,000 per day. By February 11, about 12,000 versions had been uploaded to YouTube, garnering over 44 million views. Talk about spreading like wild fire!  Since this fire is still burning, one has to wonder when and how this happened. Just ask five teenagers from Queensland, Australia. Registered on YouTube as The Sunny Coast Skate, this “Fab Five” established this meme. As more people replicated the original video and uploaded their own versions to YouTube, the “New Harlem Shake” became an Internet meme.

Presently, about 40,000 Harlem Shake videos have been uploaded, totaling 175 million views. Let us discuss these videos, shall we? The videos last between 30 and 32 seconds and feature part of the song “Harlem Shake” by electronic musician Baauer. Usually, each video begins with one person dancing to the song alone for 15 seconds, doing a “thrusting motion“, surrounded by other people who are not paying attention, or are unaware of the dancing individual. When the bass drops, the video cuts to the entire crowd performing a crazy convulsive dance for the next 15 seconds. The dancing style is completely different from the original. Additionally, in the second half of the video, people often wear a minimum of clothes, crazy outfits, or costumes while wielding whimsical props.

The Harlem Shake meme has spread in many countries, including the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, to name a few.  {watch videos below}

Well, since we now know what the “New Harlem Shake” has become, how did the Original Harlem Shake begin? Time for a blast from the past.

The year was 1981. The place was Harlem, New York. Originally called the “albee“, the dance was initially named after a Harlem native named Albert Leopold Boyce, simply known as Al B.  Later, as its prominence grew beyond the neighborhood, it was renamed the Harlem Shake.

Al B stated that the movement is similar to a shake that a person does, when they are intoxicated. He said it also comes from the ancient Egyptians, and describes it as what the mummies used to do. He said that because the mummies were all wrapped up, they couldn’t really move. All they could do was shake. Al B states that he has been doing the Harlem shake since 1981. The dance first caught on at the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic known as EBC at the Rucker Park in Harlem, and spread from there to other areas. In 2006, at age 43, Al B died of heart failure.

Unlike the original, the New Harlem Shake is very easy for fans to reproduce. The simplicity of the concept allows fans to create their own style and vibe, while retaining the basic elements. The concept has many forms. It could be made with two people, a small group, or even a crowded stadium. The vein of humor that runs through each video is not dependent on language. Because of this, increasing its potential to spread virally.

How about that infectious song? Harlem Shake, recorded by American DJ and producer Baauer, was released as a free digital download on May 22, 2012. The up-tempo song incorporates a mechanical bass line, synth riffs, and samples of growling-lion sounds. It also samples Plastic Little’s 2001 song “Miller Time” – specifically the vocal “then do the Harlem Shake“. Baauer added a variety of peculiar sounds to the song so that it would stand out. Baauer’s Harlem Shake reached #1 on the iTunes America chart and #2 on iTunes in the UK and Australia on February 15, 2013.

It is always amazing how a phenomenon can start from a humble beginning, and make the entire world shake. Pun intended!

G-Dep: Lets Get It

Internet meme

Harlem shake tutorial (original)

Ashly is a freelance writer and poet from Baltimore, MD.

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