The Harlem Shake dance was a viral phenomenon in 2013. Though it went out of style just as suddenly as it appeared, many still have fond memories of the spastic, fun dance.
But who made the Harlem Shake dance in the first place? How did it appear and become popular?
And … what was the meaning behind the random, chaotic dance?
That’s what we’re going to find out in today’s article, which will tell you the history, origin, and even how to dance the Harlem Shake (for people who are born too early to appreciate the nascent meme culture of the early 2010s).
Table of Contents
Harlem Shake Dance Origin & History
Who started the Harlem Shake trend?
The creator of the Harlem Shake was Albert Leopold Boyce (known professionally as Al B., but not to be confused with Al B. Sure!). He’s a resident of the Harlem area of New York and debuted the dance during breaks at the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic at Rucker Park – an informal basketball court nestled deep in the Harlem area of Manhattan, NYC.
Initially, the dance was known as “The Albee” as a homage to its creator. But when the dance began to spread from out of Harlem, it adopted a different name “the Harlem Shake”.
When did the Harlem shake dance come out?
Since it became popular in the 2010s, you probably thought that it was a pretty recent invention. Not so much!
The Harlem Shake was actually created by Al B. all the way back in 1981. For literally three decades, the dance was mostly “underground”. It wasn’t until the 2010s that the Harlem Shake became popular thanks to the work of Crazy Boyz – a four-man dance crew.
The Harlem Shake Dance Trend
Harlem Shake became “mainstream” all the way back in 2001 in a music video for the song “Let’s Get It” by G. Dep., a Harlemite rapper. In the video, the dance was performed by a group of children.
Other than G. Dep., the Harlem Shake dance was also adopted by other hip-hop artists like Jadakiss (in his music video “Put Your Hands Up”). The dance was referred to in the lyrics of Missy Elliott’s Work It and Cam’ron’s Down and Out.
But during this stage, even though it’s considered “mainstream”, the Harlem Shake is still mostly considered a pretty niche dance that’s only ever known in the hip-hop communities.
“It’s a drunken shake anyway, it’s an alcoholic shake, but it’s fantastic, everybody loves it and everybody appreciates it.” Said Al B. during an interview in 2003. “And it’s glowing with glory. And it’s respected.”
It was not until 2013 with the release of the “Harlem Shake” song by Baauer that the dance became viral and turned into an Internet meme. This is when the dance became known to the wider public.
In one of his videos, DizastaMusic (also known as “Pink Guy”, “Filthy Frank”, or “Joji”), performed the dance, which quickly became super popular and received millions of views.
Hundreds of “covers” were made after his video. But Joji’s variant of the Harlem Shake wasn’t like the original dance and it was far more loose and funny. This sparked the ire of Harlemite and people who knew of the dance before Joji’s meme.
A resident of the Harlem neighborhood was quoted as saying: “Don’t offend us with that nonsense you’re calling the Harlem Shake.” The dance is said to be a joke, a sign of gentrification in the neighborhood, and cultural appropriation.
Although the dance was once everywhere, nobody really does it anymore.
Similar to dances such as the Gangnam Style, the Harlem Shake is a one-hit-wonder. You’ll still find some rare performances and fun videos out there, of course, but at the peak of its popularity in 2013, you’ll find a Harlem Shake video uploaded almost daily!
The Harlem Shake Dance Song
Most young people will have known of the Harlem Shake via the titular Harlem Shake song released as a single on May 22, 2012, by the American DJ Baauer. After all, it’s upon this song that the modern, meme-ified Harlem Shake was created.
The song has a very high tempo and a very upbeat tune, with elements of hip-hop, trap, and bass music.
Though it was released in the middle of 2012, the song didn’t gain traction until 2013 when Joji released his meme video that eventually turned the Harlem Shake into a viral phenomenon.
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How To Do The Harlem Shake Dance?
There are two kinds of Harlem Shake dances … no matter which one you’re looking for, we have them all here for you!
The Original Harlem Shake Dance
Although the 2013 Harlem Shake is definitely a lot more popular, many people still prefer the vintage “serious” Harlem Shake dance. This is how the original Harlem Shake dance steps go.
- Go Into Position
Start by standing still in one place with your arms at your sides.
- Pop Your Shoulders
As the music picks up and you get into the beat, start popping your shoulders left and right. “Popping” here means moving it from side to side quickly (but still rhythmically).
With each popping motion, your body should also follow through with the movement in a fluid-like manner.
- Use a Triple Count
When you’re popping your shoulders, count three beats. So, if you go with your left shoulder first, then go left, right, left. Then reverse to right, left right.
- Introduce Your Arms
When popping your shoulders, bend your arms at the elbows. Your forearms and hands should be facing the other direction. So, for example, if you pop left, extend your arms right; pop right and throw your arms left.
Make sure your hands are in a relaxed, closed fist.
- Make the Dance Yours!
If you keep on doing the same motion over and over, it’s going to get boring real fast. So, it’s important to add your own flair to your performance.
Change it up by taking the same core moves (popping your shoulders and swinging your arms) and get creative with them.
Swing your arms to your shoulder’s height or even higher than your head, while incorporating cool hand motions to the beats, like wiping a pretend dirt off your shoulder.
- Finish the Dance!
Finish the dance by stopping all motion and standing still in one place again.
The 2013 Harlem Shake Dance
When you’re doing the 2013 meme-ified Harlem Shake, it’s important to have it on film. It’s one of the rare dances out there where you have to film it so that it’s enjoyable!
- Set the Scene
You can set up the “filming scene” of a Harlem Shake video anywhere. But generally, the more outrageous and weird the setting, the better.
People have arranged a Harlem Shake dance video in the middle of a diner and even in the middle of a lecture hall. Use your creativity!
- Gather Your Group!
The Harlem Shake is best danced in a group. About 4-5 people are enough, but if you manage to rope a dozen people … then all the better! The more, the merrier. Ideally, your group of friends should be as diverse as possible.
There’s a friend who knows how to break dance? Great! Or someone who has a wicked samba routine? Try and get them into the group!
- Get Your Costumes
They should be dressed as inconspicuous as possible at first, like hoodies and jeans. Anything that’s casual.
The dance starts with all of the participants doing normal things (checking phones, reading a book, etc.) as the music gradually builds up. When it hits the climax, the scene will cut to a totally chaotic scene of people dancing and dressed in outrageous, weird costumes.
And that’s where your second set of clothes will come in. Pick up the weirdest outfits you got in your closet, like a set of shirts and pants with entirely mismatching colors, jazzy-looking shades, and socks and sandals.
If you have them (or are willing to rent them), you can even wear dinosaur costumes and other Halloween-ish apparel!
- Once the Chorus Hit, Let Loose!
When the beat drops and the chorus kicks in, start to dance like it’s your last day on Earth. You can do absolutely anything, from vibrating and shaking in place, to doing a Russian ballet routine. It doesn’t matter, so long as you’re dancing!
That’s the cool part about the 2013’s variant of the Harlem Shake: there’s really no Harlem Shake dance move at all. It can be whatever you fancy.
This is the best and funniest part of the dance. Everyone’s doing their own thing and the scene is a total mess, but believe us when we say that it’ll be one of the best fun you’ve had in a long while.
- Remember to End the Video
The video should be short. Preferably only 45 seconds long. If it’s stretched out for too long, you’ll lose the comedic value and it’ll become pretty boring.
The classic Harlem Shake dance was given a new lease of life in 2013. Although some people said that the 2013 version was a disservice to the old dance, it did one thing right: it brought the Harlem Shake – the original and the new one alike – to the forefront of pop culture for quite a while.
We hope this deep dive into the history of the Harlem Shake dance has given you a better idea of what this dance is all about! If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to contact us via the comment section down below.