For 14 seconds a lone dancer is dancing with others passively sitting, standing or working ? a very mediocre scene. Suddenly, change occurs and for the next 14 seconds people are dancing madly everywhere: underwater, on a plane, in underwear, in a library or school. This is the Harlem Shake.

The Harlem Shake is causing quite a stir on social networks and there are hundreds of videos on YouTube showing some very creative Harlem Shake dances. Tuks students have also embraced the new trend. The multimedia students and TuksHockey have made Harlem Shake videos and posted them on YouTube.

Adriaan Geldenhuys, a first-year BA Visual Studies student, says, “The Harlem Shake gives you an excuse to look like a fool, without really being one. I’ve actually posted three Harlem Shake videos onto YouTube and one is quite popular.”

Monique Barnard, a first-year BIS Publishing student, says, “Everyone is doing the Harlem Shake and I like it a lot. We’ve done it at a few parties and for me it doesn’t have any meaning other than a pop song.”

According to Steven Hyden, a music critic and staff writer for – a website specially dedicated to sports and pop culture – the Harlem Shake is one of the most important and successful YouTube videos yet because it is not only a pop culture phenomenon but it also serves as an act of revolution for young people in countries like Egypt and Tunisia.

Robert Mackey, writer for The New York Times news blog The Lede, reports that four pharmacy students danced the Harlem Shake as a protest act in the streets of Cairo. The students were arrested and charged with public indecency. The revolution is a result of Egypt’s failure to change its governance as initially promised by President Mohamed Morsi.

After the long dictatorship and dispute between Islamists and secularists over Tunisia’s identity, students are celebrating their freedom with the Harlem Shake, even though they are opposed by angry religious conservatives. Tunisian high school students danced the Harlem Shake, posted the video on YouTube and received a quarter of a million hits for it, reports the National Post. Tunisia’s minister of education led an investigation into the making of the video. In retaliation, the citizens of Tunisia posted hundreds of Harlem Shake videos on YouTube. The Harlem Shake has become a way for these youths to shake off their political shackles and to have their voices heard.

The Harlem Shake didn’t have a typical YouTube birth. Originally called the albee, this dance originated in the Harlem neighbourhood of New York City. Invented by Al B in 1981, the dance (which is not the same as today’s dance) spread fast through Harlem and the rest of the USA. American music producer Baauer released a song called “Harlem Shake” in 2012 and it became an iTunes top seller. It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and stayed there for five consecutive weeks in 2013. Baauer’s music video for the song was never released but the audio track has been listened to over 14 million times, according to Rolling Stone.

Comedian Filthy Frank was the first to upload a parody video on YouTube where he does his impression of the Harlem Shake. Many followed and posted their own takes on the dance.

Songs and videos which became internet sensations have the ability to reach a lot of people in a short amount of time and influence them, says the Financial Review. The youths of Egypt and Tunisia were inspired by the Harlem Shake to bring about action in their countries.

For many, this may just be another YouTube sensation or another internet craze one might have tried to ignore at first because it seemed silly. However, due to the way the video has been appropriated, one is forced to look at it from a different perspective. The Harlem Shake is not just a crazy and entertaining dance. For 30 seconds people do the Harlem Shake to force others to listen to them. For 30 seconds the Harlem Shake could become a revolution song.

Image: Eleanor Harding

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