By Bolaji Oke-Samuel, section editor: student voices (firstname.lastname@example.org)
On Monday night, I got a text reminder from the President of the African Student Council (ASU), which said: “Don’t forget to bring something outrageous to wear for tomorrow, ASC’s doing our own Harlem shake vid!! (be excited) :D” Tomorrow in this text for members of ASC refers to Tuesday at 5 pm when the ASC general body meeting is held. When I got this text, I did not know what the Harlem shake was and so I decided to look it up on Google. My Google search led to the trail of videos that has hit the Internet especially YouTube since the beginning of this month. I watched about two or three of this videos and I was turned off because it seemed the videos looked silly and ridiculous to me and I decided at that moment that I would not partake in that part of the meeting.
During the meeting, a member who might have orchestrated the idea showed to those present and the curious what he thought was the Harlem shake, which just involved him jerking back and forth with his waist, which was somewhat awkward to watch. During the meeting the first part of the Harlem shake was recorded, and everyone present was told by the President and the videographer to act natural i.e. do not laugh at the President pelvic-thrusting in the center of the room. Most of us present could not stop ourselves from bursting forth with laughter. It is difficult not to laugh when someone is doing something funny right in front of you. Especially if you are a giggler like me, I had to bite the inside of my cheek, look away from the scene but I still could not keep the smile away from my face. Close to the end of the meeting, everyone was prompted to don their outrageous attire so we can all do the Harlem shake.
Most of members of the council were still confused on what to do and we were given the response just do whatever. To remind you I had resolved earlier not to partake in this silly act but seeing everyone else get ready to shake I became swept up in the excitement to come and I began to prompt people in a rather loud voice, get ready to do the “Harlem Shake.” People donned scarfs on their heads, wore nylon bags on their bodies, wore ridiculous looking hats, etc. The DJ played the catchy tone that I have now learnt was put together by the Latin artist DJ Baauer. The first thing you heard was “Con los terroristas” and everyone began to shake uncontrollably and non-rhythmically. It was a sight to see or not to see. However, everyone was excited and rather jokingly, someone commented, “There goes my future job”. I found this interesting that although people were excited to do the shake they also wanted to remain anonymous.
Ignorance spreads like wild fire is an appropriate summary of this new craze/version of the Harlem Shake that has spread all over the Internet through YouTube videos. After partaking in the ASC Harlem shake video I remember thinking about what the people of Harlem might think about the Harlem shake. This came to mind because I have first-hand experience about how things are perceived in one place compared to the next. Having had to answer ridiculous questions about my country in Africa. I found my answer when I stumbled across the video that was made by Chris McGuire titled: “Harlem’s Reaction to the Harlem Shake.” I immediately felt stupid and I felt like a westerner who had a backward view about Africa and who has just visited Africa for the first time and realized that he was wrong and ignorant all along. I became like those at the receiving end of my criticism on ignorance. This is the main reason why I have decided to write this article to set others like myself straight on what the Harlem shake was and what it has become which are two different things.
The Harlem Shake was a dance associated with a street dancer with the name “Al B” in Harlem, New York in the year 1981. The dance however became popular when G Dep featured it in a music video of the song “Let’s Get It”. The Harlem Shake dance of the year 1981 and 2001 when G Dep’s music video became popular, involved rhythmic chest movements and the wiggling of arms and shoulders where the dancer would shimmy quickly swing his arms back and forth, freeze and start again. It was said that Al B had a rather elaborate story of how this dance originated from mummies in Egypt, Africa who would shake because they were bound by ropes and could not use their bodies.
Comparing this definition to the uncontrollable and mostly nonrhythmic shaking of the Harlem shake meme one would see and easily come to the conclusion that Al B’s Harlem Shake and the new internet sensation are two completely different things. However, they have become connected. One of the residents of Harlem featured in McGuire’s video stated that the meme is an attempt to commercialize the Harlem Shake and I would agree with this statement especially after reading about how the song by Baauer had soared in the songs charts due to the popularity of its videos on YouTube.
There is a lesson to be learned here, which points to ignorance which I believe to be at the root of the popularity of the meme. However, rather accommodatingly one of the residents of Harlem featured in McGuire’s video pleaded with the public and to those making the videos to at least have one dancer in their videos who will do the “real” Harlem shake especially if they are going to call their rendition of their dance:”the Harlem Shake.” This I believe is not too much to ask, I would hope that people would consider this suggestion and actually follow it. I know that I would, I hope you would too.