A New Meme: The Harlem Shake

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Students doing the Harlem Shake in Spain. Image: Vic fh

Students doing the Harlem Shake in Spain. Image: Vic fn

There’s a new dance that has become popular through the Internet called the Harlem Shake.

Millions have people have watched the original Harlem Shake video on YouTube and there have been thousands of tribute videos made.

It’s hard to describe the crazy-looking dance, which is done to a happy, goofy sounding song of the same name, written by an American DJ and electronic musician named Baauer. Wikipedia describes the song this way:

“The uptempo song incorporates a mechanical bassline, Dutch house synth riffs, a dance music drop and samples of growling-lion sounds. Baauer added a variety of peculiar sounds to the song so that it would stand out.”

The videos—the original and the thousands of tribute videos that have been made since—start with one person or several people dancing. Then there’s a jump-cut to a roomful of people in costumes, helmets and masks all awkwardly jerking their bodies and happily flailing their arms.

The Harlem Shake has become a “meme” (pronounced meem). An Internet meme is a video, photo or idea that spreads from person to person and is altered or combined with other videos and photos.

Some versions of the Harlem Shake that have been posted on YouTube include:

• Sky divers doing the dance in mid-air;

• Norwegian Army officers;

• Puppies;

• Grandmothers;

• The University of Georgia’s swim-and-dive team (underwater);

• The English National Ballet (in tutus); and

• The animated television show The Simpsons.

The organization that regulates airline flight in the United States is investigating a version of the Harlem Shake done by some college frisbee players on an airplane. They want to make sure no laws were broken when people got out of their seats and started jumping and dancing around on the plane. The students who did the video say they asked the pilot, the crew and the passengers if it would be OK to do the dance during the flight and they agreed; many passengers even joined in.

Some people are saying the Harlem Shake meme is dying out, calling it “a passing fad” that’s nearly over now.

According to The New York Times, all of the modern Harlem Shake videos stem back to a 1981 dance called the Albee, made popular by a dancer named Al B., who would entertain the crowds in Harlem New York with his original moves. Al B.’s real name was Albert Boyce and he died in 2006 at the age of 43, according to the Times.

Note: TKN is not posting the Harlem Shake video because it may not be suitable for some children. Also, many of the comments and posts that come up when the video is viewed are not kid-friendly. Children should enlist the help of a trusted adult.

Related link:

What’s In A Meme? Ikea Monkey Goes Viral

CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS
By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
What is a ‘fad’? What makes something spread on the Internet? Why do you think the Harlem Shake has become so popular?

Do you think fads, such as the Harlem Shake are important, or are they just fun? In your opinion, will people remember them in a few decades, or are they just fun for now?

Reading Prompt: Extending Understanding 
Wikipedia wrote a complicated description the Harlem Shake song:

“The uptempo song incorporates a mechanical bassline, Dutch house synth riffs, a dance music drop and samples of growling-lion sounds. Baauer added a variety of peculiar sounds to the song so that it would stand out.”

As you tell by the Wikipedia description, songs and sounds are difficult to describe.

Think of a sound or a song and try to describe it to someone who has never heard it before.

Junior
Extend understanding of texts by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

Intermediate
Extend understanding of texts, including increasingly complex or difficult texts, by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

Grammar Feature: Bullet Points
Bullet points are used to attract a reader’s attention to important facts and information. There are no fixed rules about how to use them, but there are several guidelines that are often followed.

For example:
1. The text introducing the list of bullet points should end with a colon (:).
2. If the text that follows the bullet point isn’t a full sentence, it doesn’t have to begin with a capital or end with a period.
3. Items in the bulleted list are often separated by semi-colons (;)

How do the bullet points in the article help you to better understand the Harlem Shake? Do the bullets in this article follow the grammar suggestions listed above?