Field Guide to the Harlem Shake

Chances are, you’re familiar with the Harlem Shake by now. Hell, you’ve probably filmed yourself and a few friends doing the dance, or at least watched one or fifty YouTube videos of other people doing it. And if you don’t know what it is, ask your grandma, because seriously that’s how ubiquitous it is at this point. I kid—kind of. For the five of you who have yet to break it down to Baauer, here’s your field guide to the Harlem Shake.

Identifying Characteristics: The basic format of the videos is all the same. One person—usually masked, usually a guy—starts thrusting to Baauer’s intro solo while other people idly carry about mundane tasks in the background. When the beat drops fifteen seconds in, the video cuts to the entire room of, generally costumed, people going wild to the song. See the example below from Riot Games.

Pretty simple, right? Yet, no one can seem to get enough. According to the Washington Post, the more than 12,000 Harlem Shake videos that have uploaded to YouTube have been watched more than 44 million times in a week. To put it in perspective, Nielsen reported that 33.3 million people watched President Obama’s State of the Union Address. So that means it’s entirely possible that more people know what a puppy looks like doing the Harlem Shake than know the President’s 2013 plans for clean energy jobs. I’m not judging. These puppies are adorable and quite skilled at those moves. The video really is required viewing for every American.

Beyond the joy of seeing a puppy dance, my favorite part of the Harlem Shake craze is that it’s so driven by dudes who just seem to want to dance—and film themselves doing so. The idea of dressing up and filming you and your friends dancing is a staple of girls’ elementary or middle school sleepovers. As far as I know, most of my guy friends never felt the same need my girlfriends and I did to get footage of themselves dancing to Janet Jackson’s ”If”. There’s something about the Harlem Shake that makes all these guys want to bust a move. Maybe the Harlem Shake will be remembered throughout history as a giant step forward in the movement to get more guys to dance. If that’s the case, any woman who has ever tried to get her boyfriend on the dance floor at a wedding is eternally grateful.

Origin: Like all dance phenomenons before it – ‘Gangnam Style’, the Macarena, that song that’s always played at weddings demanding ‘everybody clap your hands’ – the Harlem Shake seemingly came out of nowhere. True, the original Harlem Shake, as some would say, dates back to the early ’80s, which itself is derived from an Ethiopian dance called ‘Eskista’. But that Harlem Shake shares pretty much nothing other than a title with the viral video dance craze that’s exploded in that past two weeks.

The song is nothing new. Baauer released ‘Harlem Shake’ in the spring of last year. Then this video, which claims to be the original, was uploaded to YouTube on February 2nd. Now everyone from Stephen Colbert to the Matt & Kim are getting in on the action.

People are even doing the Harlem Shake under water.

I’m assuming that the Harlem Shake sensation is nearing its viral shelf life, but that’s okay. After that puppy version, everyone is competing for second anyway.

Image via ABC News

Filed Under
 •  •  •  •  •  •