Harlem shake (dance)

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The Harlem shake is a style of hip-hop dance characterized by jerky arm and shoulder movements in time to music.[1] The dance was created by Harlem resident Al B. (Albert Boyce) in 1981; the dance was initially called "The Albee" or "The Al. B.".[2] As indicated by the name, it is associated with the predominantly African American neighborhood of Harlem, in New York City.[3] The dance became known as the Harlem Shake as its prominence grew beyond the neighborhood. In 2001 G. Dep's music video for the song "Let's Get It" introduced the dance to the mainstream.


The dance was created Al B. who was known for performing it during breaks at the Entertainer's Basketball Classic basketball tournament at Rucker Park.[4] Harlem resident Al B. (also known as Ali Saadat and Al Cisco), whose legal name was Albert Leopold Boyce, died in 2006 at the age of 43.[5][6][7] The dance was first called "The Albee" after its creator and later became known at the Harlem Shake when it became popular outside of the neighbourhood.[8] The dance was then popularised by four man dance crew Crazy Boyz (members Maurice "Motion" Strayhorn, Jesse "Smiley" Rutland,[a] Kirkland "Dirty Kirt" Young and Joseph "No Bones" Collins).[14]

Sources differ in identifying the inspiration for the dance - some say it is based on an Ethiopian dance Eskista[3][15] and others that it was inspired by the dance moves of the creator's mother Sandra Boyce.[5]

In 2003 interview Al B. said that the dance is "It's a drunken shake anyway, it's an alcoholic shake, but it's fantastic, everybody loves it and everybody appreciates it. And it's glowing with glory. And it's respected." According to Al. B. the dance came from the ancient Egyptians and describes it as what the mummies used to do.[8][6] Because they were all wrapped up, they couldn't really move, all they could do was shake.[16][17]

In popular culture[edit]

The Harlem Shake became mainstream in 2001 with the release of the music video for "Let's Get It" by G. Dep. The video featured children performing the dance.[18][16][19] The dance became popular in hip-hop music videos of the era especially with artists from Harlem. Most notably it was a key feature in music videos for Jadakiss' "Put Your Hands Up and G.Dep's "Special Delivery", both released in 2001.[20] The outro to Missy Elliott's 2002 hit "Work It" states "Yo, it's okay though, you know if you wanna be hard and ice-grilled, and Harlem Shake at the same time, whatever, let's just have fun." The Harlem Shake was also referenced in the lyrics to the song "Down and Out" by Harlem rapper Cam'ron.

The Harlem Shake is commonly associated with a similar dance move "The Chicken Noodle Soup". The "Chicken Noodle Soup" dance evolved from the Harlem Shake and exploded into popularity in the summer of 2006 when DJ Webstar and Young B brought it to the mainstream with the release of a song of the same name.[16][21] The dance is referred to in the CunninLynguists song "Old School", in Mac Dre's "Thizzle Dance," and in Nelly's "Dilemma." A band from New York City took the name of the dance and dubbed themselves Harlem Shakes.

Reaction to the Harlem shake meme and song[edit]

In February 2013, a song named "Harlem Shake" (due to a sampled line referring to the Harlem Shake dance), originally released by Baauer in May 2012, went viral and became an Internet meme after featuring in a YouTube video by DizastaMusic, primarily known as Pink Guy or FilthyFrank at the time, who is now known as Joji. The dance that is done on the internet as a meme is not the Harlem Shake.[22] A number of Harlem residents were displeased with the co-opting of the name and making a mockery of the dance. Harlemite Elaine Caesar was quoted as saying "Don’t offend us with that nonsense you’re calling the Harlem Shake." The meme was described as "cultural gentrification" and cultural appropriation.[23][24] The meme inspired a number of videos demonstrating authentic dance.[14]


  1. ^ One of the co-founders of the dance, Jesse "Smiley" Rutland, was murdered by gunshot in his home on December 10, 2017.[9][10][11] The suspect, Kumar Reid, was charged by police with second-degree murder and weapons possession.[12][13]


  1. ^ Marberry, Craig; Cunningham, Michael (2003). The Spirit of Harlem: A Portrait of America's Most Exciting Neighborhood. Doubleday. ISBN 9780385504065.
  2. ^ "Harlem Shake". The Encyclopedia of New York. Simon & Schuster. 2020. ISBN 978-1-5011-6696-9. OCLC 1159858094.
  3. ^ a b Spickard, James V. (2017-03-14). Alternative Sociologies of Religion: Through Non-Western Eyes. NYU Press. pp. 230–231. ISBN 9781479866311.
  4. ^ Kugler, Sara (March 7, 2013). "'Harlem Shake' craze needs historical, cultural context". MSNBC.com. Retrieved 2022-08-22.
  5. ^ a b Mays, Jeff (February 25, 2013). "Harlem Shake Inspired by Harlem Mom". DNAinfo New York. Archived from the original on January 26, 2018. Retrieved 2018-01-26.
  6. ^ a b "Inventor of Harlem Shake Interview". Inside Hoops. 2003-08-13. Retrieved 2013-02-15.
  7. ^ Jaworski, Michelle (12 February 2013). "What's the Harlem Shake, and why is everyone doing it?". The Daily Dot. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  8. ^ a b Schultz, Colin. "Presenting the Real Harlem Shake". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2018-01-26.
  9. ^ Gregory, Kia (2013-02-28). "Behind 'Harlem Shake' Craze, a Dance That's Decades Old". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-03-18.
  10. ^ "'The Harlem Shake' co-creator shot dead in Brooklyn home". NY Daily News. Retrieved 2018-03-18.
  11. ^ "Harlem Shake Co-Founder, Jesse 'Smiley' Rutland, Killed In NY". Vibe. 2018-01-20. Retrieved 2018-03-18.
  12. ^ "Harlem Shake creator Jesse 'Smiley' Rutland is murdered in his home". The Grio. January 22, 2018. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  13. ^ "Co-creator of the Harlem Shake, Jesse 'Smiley' Rutland, was killed in New York | AFROPUNK". AFROPUNK. 2018-01-22. Retrieved 2018-03-18.
  14. ^ a b Gregory, Kia (2013-02-28). "Behind 'Harlem Shake' Craze, a Dance That's Decades Old". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-01-26.
  15. ^ Alvarez, Alex (13 February 2013). "What Is This "Harlem Shake" Thing Anyway?". ABC News. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  16. ^ a b c "Harlem Shake dancing videos and lessons". dancejam.com. Archived from the original on 2011-11-18.[self-published source]
  17. ^ "The Harlem Shake". rapbasement.com. 2008-04-08. Archived from the original on 2013-02-15. Retrieved 2013-02-15.
  18. ^ "G. Dep Delivers Harlem Shake In New Video". MTV News. Retrieved 2018-01-26.
  19. ^ Jake Crates (2013-02-14). "EXCLUSIVE: G. Dep Comments On "Harlem Shake" Craze; "It Ain't Defining Harlem"". AllHipHop.com. Retrieved 2013-02-22.
  20. ^ "Five Great Hip-Hop Videos Featuring the Actual Harlem Shake, Not That Fake-Ass One". Vulture. 2013-02-14. Retrieved 2018-01-26.
  21. ^ Scott, Jerrie Cobb; Straker, Dolores Y.; Katz, Laurie (2009-06-02). Affirming Students' Right to their Own Language: Bridging Language Policies and Pedagogical Practices. Routledge. ISBN 9781135269449.
  22. ^ Laird, Sam (20 February 2013). "The Real Harlem Shake: 6 Videos You Shouldn't Meme Without". Mashable. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  23. ^ Boylan-Pett, Liam (17 February 2013). "Harlem Shake Video: How Internet Gentrification Ruined the Dance". Mic. Retrieved 2022-08-22.
  24. ^ Kugler, Sara (March 7, 2013). "'Harlem Shake' craze needs historical, cultural context". MSNBC.com. Retrieved 2022-08-22.

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