The Harlem Shake Is Not Really the Harlem Shake

harlem shake

Posted By Wendy

Once upon a time, I made my career as a dance writer. I was considered the hip-hop guru at the dance magazine where I worked, which was beyond amusing since it was not very many years prior that my dance team captain was moving me to the back of the formations during our hip-hop routines. But I grew to appreciate and love hip-hop. I was hooked on the rhythm, the rich history, and the deep roots of hip-hop not only as a dance form, but as a culture.

While working at the magazine, I had the opportunity to get schooled by some of hip-hop dance’s legends—Popin’ Pete, Rennie Harris, and Rockafella were on my speed dial. They let me know the difference between top rock and up rock, and that popping and locking are, in fact, two very separate genres of dance. So when I saw that there was a new meme involving the Harlem Shake, I sat up and took notice.

How funny, I thought. Why is this early 00s dance move coming back in style? I remember, as a classically trained jazz and ballet dancer, fumbling around trying to combine the dance’s simple shoulder pops with its shimmies. So when I clicked on the first video, I expected to see a bunch of uncoordinated white people (stereotypes, forgive me) stiffly shimmy-popping to some Nelly.

What I got, instead, was some dudes dressed as Power Rangers humping the air and flailing their arms and legs in full-body seizures.

What. The Ever-Loving. Fuck.

Alright, in the grand scheme of things, is it that big a deal that this Harlem Shake craze is not actually the Harlem Shake? No. Except when you consider that it undermines part of my life’s work and the work of all the hip-hop dance pioneers. It muddies the waters of the hip-hop dance lexicon, causing confused and misinformed dancers to shake like electrified zombies instead of doing the actual Harlem Shake, which looks a little something like this:

How to do the Harlem Shake

Dance is such a fascinating part of our culture…much of it is not written down. It’s passed down from generation to generation through movement and music. But now that we have the technology to capture dance on video and to share it with the entire Internet, we’ve got a unique opportunity to educate people not only on the correct ways to execute the movements but also where they came from, why they are called what they are called, and what they actually mean. That was, at least for me, half the fun of learning how to dance!

Maybe I am being a little oversensitive, but I can’t help it. If a dance craze sweeps the Internet and it’s basically a bunch of B.S. then I’m going to call it out. Whatever this “dance” is making the rounds, it’s not the Harlem Shake. Harlem Seizure? Maybe…but I doubt that shit came out of Harlem, either.


Posted By Alex

Let me start off by saying that I don’t give two shits about Internet trends. I find memes to be hilarious but that is where my amusement stops. Planking? No thanks. I’ll let teenagers with plenty of time on their hands worry about posting those pictures on the Internet. Getting a lot of people together and organizing a Harlem Shake is even more work than planking and again, no thanks.

So when Wendy told me that the Internet had the Harlem Shake all wrong I said to her, “Who gives a crap?” In my defense, Dead Space 3 was about to hit and I was on a mission to find that Phil Collins “In the Air” remix that the new trailer had launched with. FYI, still no dice on that song. Sad face.

She gave me this deadpan look of “well you should care because they are so obviously doing it wrong.” Okay, let me see what you are talking about. I loaded up a few of the videos ranging from college campuses to Battlefield 3 players (in game) looking like they were all having seizures. Together. I laughed pretty hard when I landed on the dryer version of the Harlem Shake (which is by far, the funniest one I’ve seen:

Having finished looking at these funny videos, I told her to show me what the real Harlem Shake looked like. She did this little dance that almost resembled what I was seeing on my screen. I said to her, “It looks the same except you seem to have better control of your body and these guys look like they are spazzing out.”

“No, look.” Again, she does the dance and at this point I tell her that nobody on the Internet cares about the actual dance. They care about the Harlem Shake only because it is the latest thing to hit the net and everyone is doing it. Much like planking was a while ago.

It’s good that Wendy cares—someone has to about everything everywhere. But the great thing about memes is that they last for about two seconds before everyone moves on to other shit. If you find this offensive because they are doing it wrong, don’t worry. Tomorrow, nobody will care about it and they’ll have moved onto the next big thing. And the Harlem Shake will be yours yet again.

The best thing you can hope for when it comes to memes, is that they are hilarious. I hope the next ones are because planking was kind of bunk compared to the Harlem Shake.

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2 Responses to “The Harlem Shake Is Not Really the Harlem Shake”

  1. wtg22

    The only problem with people moving on from the Harlem Shake is that the record of it will remain in the Internet forever. So now whenever someone Googles “Harlem Shake” they’ll get these ridiculous videos instead of information or how-tos about the actual dance. So yeah, it leaves an impression and a false record for years to come…unless people begin circulating the CORRECT information and clicking on it just as much as those silly videos. Sadly, since people don’t seem to care about it, I don’t see that happening.

  2. Amanda

    Alex’s video can no longer be viewed but it still wouldn’t change my mind. I could care less about it. The only thing that made me look into the harlem shake was the lyrics that some were complaining about.


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