Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Harlem Shake

A recent dance craze entitled “The Harlem Shake” has erupted on the scene. In this dance, things tend to get a little crazy. However, this dance craze has gained a substantial amount of negative attention from members of the African American community. Not only does this dance mock the true “Harlem Shake”, but it brings disgrace upon a historically African American community. One journalist, Melissa Harris-Perry, voices her opinion on this seemingly “fake” Harlem Shake. This article can be found at
            In her monologue, Melissa Harris-Perry reminds viewers that Harlem is a place of African American creativity. During the Harlem Renaissance, a plethora of creativity flowed from Harlem in the form of dance, music, poetry, and art. According to Melissa Harris-Perry, White America has forgotten where true cultural designation of the Harlem Shake belongs. It is not like the Harlem Shake was recent. It has been around since at least the 1980s.
            This article reminded me of Dr. McKinney’s comment in class about how White America sung songs written by African American in a sexless manner. This new dance craze is simply another act of voyeurism in the African American community. According to Melissa Harris-Perry, “Harlem, the birthplace of music, art, and literature, has been invaded yet again by White America.” In the past, White America stole creativity from Harlem and attempted to keep that entertainment for themselves by not allowing African Americans to enjoy the music performances of the artists from Harlem. Is it happening all over again?
            When I first discovered the dance, I was expecting to see whites attempt to do the intricate shoulder movements involved in the dance. To my surprise, the things I saw varied. However, I can say it was not the Harlem Shake. Until I viewed this article, I saw the humor involved in the viral videos. I never thought about the mockery it displayed to the Harlem community.
            As Melissa Harris- Perry said, “Respect should be shown to the Harlem community.” In acknowledging other dances, you would not waltz when the competition calls for the tango. It is only befitting that the Harlem Shake be shown appropriate respect for its cultural place in the African American community. Knowing the cultural background of the Harlem community, do you believe that it is disrespectful to call this new dance craze “The Harlem Shake”? Are African Americans simply over-reacting to college students good, clean fun? 


  1. I think I see both sides to this argument. In some ways, the Harlem Shake in its original dance form as a contribution from the Harlem community to the arts is being disrespected by a bunch of college students (or Miami Heat players ;) ) mimicking a version of the dance.

    In other ways, I think this is just one of those social media fads that will die out soon. I don't think the "Harlem Shake" videos are doing anything to alter public perception of Harlem itself. I can see how the effect might change particularly young white Americans associations with Harlem. Maybe it makes you think of the Harlem Shake youtube craze before you associate Harlem with the Harlem Renaissance. The long-term effects of this fad will probably be determined by its length.

    Short-term, I believe it is likely offensive to the artistic and cultural traditions from Harlem, but I believe as this fad dies (as all do) that association will end as well.

  2. I think the question is should the current goals of African American be integration or to close ranks. As the fad grew it showed several people of different races, in many cases, coming together to make a quick video in which they could have fun and have some potential fame. In doing so it promotes a sense of unity among those who were “ballsy” enough to participate in it (I was not). However if the goal of the black community is to promote their own self value, and believe that culture, through music and dance, is a key way of displaying it then it becomes a tougher thing to appreciate. I do believe that this craze will die out, and should be seen as something fun rather than an insult to the Harlem community.