News / USA

    Harlem Shake Craze Draws Fans Worldwide

    A YouTube dance phenomenon called the Harlem Shake is drawing a huge Internet audience in the United States and abroad.

    In the past two weeks, thousands of people have posted short videos of themselves and their friends doing moves to a previously little-known electronic track by a New York DJ.

    Most of the videos follow a basic formula that has been easy to replicate for fans around the world, including in Washington.

    Jordin's Paradise, a local dance and fitness studio, organized a Harlem Shake flash mob in Dupont Circle Park this week, using Facebook to spread the word.

    As a speaker blared the first 30 seconds of the song by New York-based DJ Baauer, two people dressed as penguins started to dance, with a studio cameraman filming them from a distance. At first, the park visitors near the penguins appeared to be oblivious to what was going on. But when the beat started, dozens of them jumped into the camera shot, transforming the once normal scene into dance-filled chaos.

    Rita, a teenage participant, said she was excited about appearing in a Harlem Shake video. "I think the song is really catchy, and since Gangnam Style was a difficult [dance] for everyone to get [used to], this is really simple. So, even if you can't really dance, just do whatever, and it's awesome," said Rita.

    Australian initiative

    In early February, five Australian teenagers from the state of Queensland were among the first to post a Harlem Shake dance on YouTube.

    The Sunny Coast Skate Crew created a video style that many others later immitated, starting with a masked dancer who is ignored by those around him, until a vocal sample says 'Then do the Harlem Shake,' and everyone else in the scene suddenly appears to be joining in.

    YouTube says tens of thousands of versions of the dance have been uploaded this month, generating more than 175 million views.

    Top-ranked videos

    The most popular iterations feature a U.S. swim and diving team at the University of Georgia, a group of Norwegian army officers, U.S. media company Maker Studios and an American comedian named Filthy Frank.

    DJ Baauer, who released Harlem Shake last year to little fanfare, has seen sales of the song skyrocket on iTunes since it became the music of choice for the viral videos. His record company also gets a share of the revenue from YouTube ads shown before the video clips.

    American indie rock duo Matt & Kim produced a version that attracted seven million views in a week. While on tour in New York state, they chose a concert hall as their venue and easily persuaded more than 5,000 fans to be their back-up dancers.

    Vocalist Matt Johnson told VOA via Skype that the energy of the dancers is what appear to be drawing the viewers.

    "As far as I know, nobody has really done it with as many people as we have. There's just a certain energy that you get from watching the 30 seconds of this. I think people really have found that enjoyable and sent it all around."

    Dance overkill?

    Cynics say the flood of immitation videos that have appeared online eventually will make people tire of the Harlem Shake and lead to its demise.

    Johnson said he is surprised the craze has lasted this long.

    "That's the nature of these Internet memes [concepts], that they can be so large so quickly," he said. "It's not like it can be maintained.  Everything is about doing it right then and moving forward. And there's something fun and very 2013 about that."

    Jordin's Paradise director Rania Jaziri hopes the fad will endure.  

    "People need to be able to dance and not care about any choreography and just have fun and come together, instead of being stuck behind a computer," she said.

    Michael Lipin

    Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

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