Posted 2/21/13 by Linzy Anna in Entertainment

The Real Story Behind the Harlem Shake

Harlem Shake History

You think you know about the Harlem Shake?

After doing a little research, it’s safe to say most people missed some unusual details behind this craze.

In order to understand the history of the Harlem Shake we must go back over 30 years. The current version of the song you recognize on the videos is named “Harlem Shake” by hip-hop artist Baauer. This is the song used in thousands of copy-cat videos and now ranks at the top of the iTunes chart.

Current Popular Version of Harlem Shake (Song FULL Length)


Was the Harlem Shake dance was created by a random drunk in 1981?

No- the original Harlem Shake was actually started by a man named Al B and really has nothing to do with the viral version you know about. Al B would perform dances during breaks at the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic at Rucker Park in Harlem. He stated that the moves for the Harlem Shake were inspired by how mummies would dance…if they could.

Others say the original dance is from an Ethiopian dance called “Eskista“. It isn’t clear which of the two is the original source of the first Harlem Shake dance, though.

Video of Harlem Shake by the Eskista dance in Ethiopia


Harlem Dance’s First Rise in Popularity

Though the dance is said to have began in 1981, it didn’t become popular by the masses until the late 90’s and early 2000’s when rapper G. Dep and Puff Daddy came out with the video using the the recognizable “shake” in “Special Delivery“. It can also be seen in his other music video called “Let’s Get It“. G. Dep’s record label, Bad Boy Records, popularized the original dance by having many of it’s artists create videos that included the dance.

Many people say this is an example of the original Harlem Shake.


The Viral Explosion

So how did this completely new version of the dance come to be?

Somehow, 10 years later, artist Baauer decided to bring back the Harlem Shake… as a song name. Baauer actually has nothing to do with the original dance phenomenon of the 90’s except for using the name for his song.

So how does G. Dep feel about the name and not his original dance? He says in an article with allhiphop.com that it should be called the Harlem Shake 2, since it has barely any resemblance to his “original” Harlem Shake.

So if Baauer didn’t launch the new dance, who did?

The Inventors of the Second Harlem Shake

Say hello to 5 friends from Caloundra, Australia who call themselves TSCS. Apparently we cannot come up with any goof viral dances here in the United States, so we must import them from South Korea (Gangnam Style) and now Australia. Below is the original viral video.

The new Harlem Shake has spawned over 40,000 different YouTube versions. The total view count according to TSCS has given all the versions of the dance a combined 175 million views. To us, it seems there really isn’t quite a “dance” per se, you can learn… it’s more of flailing around and do a sort of thrusting motion until the song hits a climax and cues the surprising scenery of extras and props dancing in original and creative ways. You could almost say rather than having an official dance, this version of the Harlem Dance rewards the most original versions that can stand out from the rest.


The Dangerous Side of Harlem

Thinking about getting some friends together and doing your own version of the Harlem Shake? Try it out! But be careful, because you do not want to end up like the unfortunate high schoolers out of New York who  filmed a pretty edgy version of the dance in the locker room. The purpose of these dances are to let people know about them and you unfortunately can’t control who watches–even if it’s your principal. This hockey team now has to forfeit the season’s playoffs because of their dance. The video is pretty crazy but you can check it out here (NSFW)

UPDATE: The hockey video was taken off YouTube.

This video craze still has a while to go before it burns out. At 175,000,000 combined views, Harlem Shake is still a very long ways away from Gangnam Style. To put it in perspective, just the original Gangnam Style video (not counting all the versions made of it) has received over one billion views.

So what do you think about the dance? Do you think Harlem Shake become an even bigger viral hit than Gangnam Style?

Linzy Anna

Linzy Anna is a senior at Mizzou studying strategic communications in the j-school. She is a professional model, writer for Josephine Magazine, blogger for MOVE! magazine and part-time employee at Marshalls. She loves being a Big for Big Brothers Big Sisters, owls, chocolate, traveling, dancing, modeling and acting.