Niagara Gazette

February 24, 2013

VINCENT DAVIS: What’s in a name? Listen to this ...

By Vincent Davis
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — I’m 98 percent sure that history will remember Feb. 22, 2013, as the day every good dance craze name was taken.

With the advent of the newest YouTube video trend, the Harlem Shake, we have officially run out of new names for the way we move our arms, legs and torsos to music. In the month of February “The Harlem Shake” became a beloved dance sensation for the third time since 1981. “But wait, isn’t the Harlem Shake only a few weeks old?” you’re surely asking, and yes you are correct … kind of.

For those of you not in the know, “Harlem Shake” videos are about 30 seconds in length and consist of one person dancing by himself, usually wearing a helmet while “Harlem Shake,” a song by dance music artist Baauer plays. A few seconds in when the bass ‘drops’ the video cuts to the helmeted dancer in the same location, but now surrounded by other revelers dancing as hard as they can for about 20 seconds.

The first “Harlem Shake” video was uploaded Jan. 30 and over the course of the next two weeks more than 4,000 “Shake” videos were posted and had garnered more than 44 million views. The song shot to number one on iTunes, and Billboard charts and Baauer sold out multiple shows.

I don’t hate YouTube or dance crazes, but I worry for our future generations; someone trying to write a report on great dance crazes from the past will pull up Wikipedia on their holo-iPhone or whatever we’re using in the future and find themselves confronted with a number of different Harlem Shakes, leading to an unfocused report and ultimately a mediocre grade. Do you even care about your great great great grandchild’s education?

For those of you in the know, “The Harlem Shake” is also a dance popularized in the early 2000s by rappers like P.Diddy (formerly “Puff Daddy”, currently just “Diddy”), Jadakiss and others. For those even more in the know it’s a dance invented in 1981 by a Harlem resident named “Al B.”

I’m not worried about misappropriation of the name or old “Al B” not getting the credit he deserves. My issue is with the fact that with each version of this dance the name makes less sense. Sure, Al was from Harlem and it was his dance, in a pre-Internet time it wouldn’t have spread too far outside of NYC so the name was sufficient. P. Diddy was raised in Mount Vernon, and put the dance in videos featuring rappers and dancers from across the country that were viewed around the world, but at least he was born in Harlem.

Baauer was raised in Germany, London and Connecticut and only moved to New York when he went to college. So when people refer to the Harlem Shake now, they mean that YouTube video that features that song by that guy who is really a ‘citizen of the world’ but lives in New York (Not Harlem) right now. That is basically nonsense.

Ever since the waltz, Charleston and jitterbug, some of the earliest dance crazes, dance names have all followed the trend of making no sense. The twist consisted of ‘twisting one’s torso,’ or the mashed potato resembles the dance one does when they’re excited to eat delicious mashed potatoes. For generations dances have been named after things that exist, but with the Harlem Shake, version 3.0 we’ve finally crossed the line into dance-name insanity.

That is, unless you count “The Bus Stop,” which has always been nonsense because let’s be honest, nobody takes the bus anymore.




Vincent Davis II is a Cornell graduate, DJ, and market development specialist in the IT industry. He can be contacted at