Culture Vultures, Harlem Shake Angst: A History Lesson-GangStarrGirl.com : GangStarr Girl

Culture Vultures and My Harlem Shake Angst: A History Lesson From a Harlem Girl Who Has Had Enough

[ 6 ] February 18, 2013 |
Harlem Shake Meme Gone Wild

Harlem Shake Gone Wild

Initially, I was going to ignore the Harlem Shake meme that had been going viral but then it just wouldn’t stop, and then I saw a story about  it on the news and they credited DJ Baauer, the guy who created the song, for starting the dance. And then Azealia Banks recorded a remix and got into beef with DJ Baauer because he didn’t like the idea that she remixed his song. Chiiiile…
Clearly, people need a Harlem Shake education so, here’s my contribution to the already over-populated with opinions digital space.

Hit the jump for more.


To my knowledge, the meme really took off when some Loyola University students released their version where they were shaking spastically to a 2012 DJ Baauer track called, you guessed it, “Harlem Shake.” That would be this video:

The actual song started to gain momentum, before all the memes went rapid, after it was heard in a Super Bowl commercial for Wonderful Pistachios. And then the viral videos exploded. Groupon even got involved and I wanted to pull out a sock and bop everyone in the head Homie Da Clown style.

After seeing even more news stories, including this Daily Beast article, attributing the origin of this “dance craze” to the DJ Baauer song, I felt my blood pressure rising but still just left it alone.

Eventually, I ended up on Clutch because I saw a headline that read “The Harlem Shake Meme that Isn’t the Harlem Shake.” It was a post written by Yesha Callahan calling out how silly and misinformed this is, so I finally decided not to let it go. The Harlem girl in me left the following comment:

Harlem Shake Comment on Clutch Magazine

Harlem Shake Comment

So yeah, waving your arms spastically to an electro dance song is fun, and the meme is cute–especially this Charlie Brown version and now the fake Barack Obama version — but people need to stop being so gahtdamn misinformed about the Harlem Shake.

[Insert Kevin Hart voice] YOU GON LEARN TODAY!

Class is in Session

1. My earliest memory of seeing the Harlem Shake stems from elementary school. I was about 10 or 11 the first time I went to the Skate Key (a skating/dance club based in the Bronx that is now shut down due to miscreants who destroyed the fun, I digress) in the early 90s. There were always local celebrity dance crews from Uptown (Harlem and the South Bronx collectively) who did the dance. It was infectious.

2. The Harlem Shake that the world knows is the mainstream version, and only a piece of the dance. It was an  unspoken movement. We just did it because it was fun and that’s what you did when you partied if you were from Uptown. You huddled with your friends and strutted your stuff on the dance floor while chanting, “HEEEEY!” The mainstream version was introduced in the 2001 video for G-Dep’s “Special Delivery”, and by that point it was already really old.

3. The Harlem Shake was actually part of a series of dances that lead up to the main event dance known as the “Ally Moe.” The Ally Moe is a terrible dance to describe. You really just have to see it but since I’m not in the business of demonstrating (please believe I can do it, though) the best I can do is tell you that the it’s basically a leap or a jump (but think hip-hop, not ballet) and you do it across the dance floor as you wave one arm in the air. The Ally Moe only gets done at the height of truly feeling yourself, after shoulder shimmying and prancing around with your friends. Bad description but that’s all I got.

4. Aside from the “Ally Moe,” the rest of the Harlem Shake was just a series of shoulder shimmies and two steps around the dance floor. The way it was done pretty much depended on your personal style. Again, this wasn’t actually called the Harlem Shake but if you were from Uptown then you saw it and most likely partook. “The Key” was  the epicenter of all that was hot in the Harlem dance world in the 90s. Even people who are from Brooklyn and Queens who once in a while ventured Uptown will tell you that they saw Harlem as that place where the kids did weird stuff, from the fashion to the dances, and the “Harlem Shake” was one of those things. You could always tell who wasn’t from Uptown while the dancing was going on because they usually always looked confused or perturbed by the shenanigans.

5. Going back to the personal style thing I mentioned, the spastic shoulder shaking you see is the most dramatic degree but it varied. Some people did it in a slow cutesy way, some people modeled, some strutted and others, namely breakers poppers and lockers, went all the way in (like in the G-Dep video). I attended dance school in Harlem and we even found ways to sneak it into the ballet, jazz and tap despite annoyed teachers who were determined to classically train the hood out of us. It was that serious.

That’s all I got for my Harlem Shake history lesson. It’s not something that was officially documented because obviously, the height of it didn’t take place in the Internet age but anyone who grew up in NYC, especially Uptown, in the 90s will back up my claims. Wikipedia says it has origins in 1981 Rucker Park. This could be true because Rucker Park was that place in Harlem. It was the epicenter of everything poppin Uptown. Then again, it’s Wikepedia where anyone  can change things as they see fit so don’t take that as the gospel truth.

About that Azealia Banks DJ Baauer beef. Banks got into it on Twitter with DJ Bauer because he shut down her remix of his song. Banks tweeted him asking, “Why he was c—k blocking her,” and his response was something along the lines of, “Because it’s not your song.”

Dude, are you effing serious? At least Azealia Banks is actually from Harlem. You, my friend, just so happened to get lucky by reviving an old hip-hop trend over an electro track.

Boy, bye!

That’s all I have to say about him but aren’t people a piece of work? Tryna ack like he’s original. Nah, son. Ol’ halfway crook ass. I digress.

Anyone else reading this, keep calm and carry on with the meme. If that’s what you want to do then fine, but don’t be willfully ignorant about it. Please and thank you.

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Category: Pop Culture, Reflections

About the Author ()

Starrene Rhett Rocque is a recovering journalist who often fantasizes about becoming a shotgun-toting B-movie heroine.
  • GTPparent

    Tell it Harlem girl!!

  • Yesha

    People just don’t get it…Someone on Twitter said, “give people 10 years, then there will be a song about this dance called a dougie”…LOL

  • http://twitter.com/JustineIsBitchn ✎ Justine Monikue ✖

    I didn’t know this meme existed until tonight, and I was confused when I saw the Norwegian (?) video meme of it, and thought, “Why isn’t anyone doing the Harlem Shake….the REAL dance?”. Either way, this meme cracks me up, so I’m not mad about it. Maybe it’ll get more people to look into what the Harlem Shake dance really is.

    This reminds me of that recent “battle” going on about FloRida sampling a song by Bingo Players for the track “I Cry”. Some people were trying to say FloRida “stole it”, when in fact, the Bingo Players sampled it from Brenda Russell’s “Piano in the Dark”.

    In conclusion, there’s always a basis from something that catches on, so why be mad about it? I think it only sheds more light on the original, even if it’s not seen that way right off.

    Oh yeah, “Special Delivery” was my jam! :D

  • VirgoDrake

    Wikipedia actually got this one right. Unfortunately, the dance moves were started by a local drunk dude who was kind of a court jester at Rucker games. The players, announcers, etc all knew him by name(I think they called him LB, but it escapes me right now) so no one would bother him when he decided to give a show during the time outs. Alley Moe is one of the street ball legends whose ball handling moves also morphed into a popular dance. I too have had it with the culture vultures!

    • GangStarrGirl

      Thanks for clarifying Drake, I always wondered about the Ally Moe too lol.

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