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‘Stop that shit’: the people of Harlem weigh in on the so-called ‘Harlem Shake’ craze

The Real Harlem Shake
The actual Shake in action in the Bronx…
 
First, the good news: The “Harlem Shake” viral video meme is likely winding down pretty soon—at least we hope.

And as the excellent video below shows, lots of Harlem residents emphatically disapprove of the way that thousands have mindlessly helped appropriate the name of a community dance into some dopey shit.

If you’re not familiar with the meme, here’s the rundown. Last spring, Brooklyn producer Harry Rodrigues a.k.a. Baauer released “Harlem Shake,” a hugely catchy downtempo party track that very clearly samples a rapper saying that he does said dance. YouTube comedian Filthy Frank used the tune in a very silly costumed dance video that launched literally thousands of similarly silly copycats, full of mostly costumed people (many, notably, in white-collar office settings) flailing their limbs and humping the air.

Cue the analysis. The Fader contextualizes the details of the phenomenon, and The Gadfly has even framed its sociological potential as communal silly fun.

But of course it goes deeper. As writer Tamara Palmer eloquently put it in her article on the dance in The Root:

Popular culture is infamous for borrowing—and sometimes outright stealing—elements from a subculture and transforming them into something completely stripped of its origins. But it is still surprising to see how the current viral video craze called the Harlem Shake has managed to almost completely supplant a vibrant form of African-American dance that was born and bloomed in Harlem.

On the face of it, there’s absolutely zero wrong with limb-flailing and air-humping. But that’s not what the 30-year-old dance known as the Harlem Shake is about. Like most dance crazes cultivated by (and appropriated from) African-American communities, it requires a modicum of skill and, dare we say, pride.

Harlem itself is pretty unequivocal.

After the jump: want to know what the real Harlem Shake looks like? Check out this “shake cypher” video for some real context…

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment