Friday, February 15, 2013

The Harlem Shake (Origins, Old School Examples, & Internet Meme)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides examples of & information about the Ethiopian Eskista dance which is said to have inspired the 1981 dance called the "Harlem Shake" in the United States. This post also features two videos of the old Harlem Shake (early 2000s), and a video of the Chicken Noodle Soup dance (2006) that came from the old Harlem Shake.

In addition, this post includes two Harlem Shake instructional videos as well as information about & a video compilation of the Harlem Shake Internet meme (2013).

The content of this post is presented for historical, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

"The Harlem Shake is a dance that originally began in Harlem, New York. Since its beginnings it has spread to other urban areas and became popular in music videos. The announcers at the Entertainer's Basketball Classic at Rucker Park claim that the modern day Harlem Shake was started by a man by the name of "Al B" (nickname Sisqo or Cisco). Al B was an alcoholic who would perform the dance upon request. Because of its founder, the dance was originally called the "albee" in Rucker and Harlem, but then later became known as the Harlem Shake.[1]...

The Harlem Shake is based on an Ethiopian dance called the Eskista.[2] [3]

... Though starting in 1981, the Harlem Shake became mainstream in 2001 when G. Dep featured the dance in his music video “Let's Get It”.[2]

The Harlem Shake is commonly associated with a similar dance move called The Chicken Noodle Soup. The Chicken Noodle Soup 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.[2]

...The [Harlem Shake] dance has repopularized [4] as of February 2013, with many people including celebrities such T-Pain uploading videos on of them doing the dance."
I very much doubt that Al B, the alleged originator of the 1981 Harlem Shake, or many other 1980s and 1990s Harlem Shake dancers knew anything about the Ethiopian "Eskista" dance. It appears from several online sites that Al B attributed his inspiration for the dance that came to be called "The Harlem Shake" to the shaking movements made by alcoholics. Al B also is said to have indicated that his inspiration for the dance was how he imagined Egyptian mummies would shake if they danced. Note: A citation for this information is given in the Related Links section below.

As to the connection between the Harlem Shake of 1980s, the 1990s and the mid 2000s & the Ethiopian Eskista dance, I think that it's much more likely that someone who knew about the Eskista dance and saw the albee/Harlem Shake dance, recognized the similarities between those two dances. After all, even before the advent of YouTube, there probably were people in New York City who had read about or had seen films of Ethiopian culture, including the Eskista dances. And even in the 1980s when the first modern day* Harlem Shake is said to have originated, there certainly were people in New York City who had visited Ethiopia. Also, undoubtedly there were people from Ethiopia in New York City and in other American cities who were familiar with the Eskista dance & with the Harlem Shake (albee) dance. That said, the body popping movements of the Eskista dance and the Harlem Shake (albee) reflect both of those dances Black African sources. Furthermore, the statement that the Harlem Shake was inspired by the Ethiopian Eskista dance helps raise awareness of that traditional Affrican dance. For that reason, even though I think it's not entirely accurate, I'm okay with the statement that the Harlem Shake is based on the Eskista dance.

*I italized the words "modern day" to highlight those words because I wonder if there were African American dances and/or Caribbean dances that emphasized shoulder popping or shoulder twisting decades before the early 1980s or even decades before the popping and locking Hip-Hop dances of the 1960s & 1970s. Click for information about "popping".

For instance, were the shoulder movements in the once very popular Jazz dance "truckin" which first emerged in Harlem around 1927 similar to the Harlem Shake shoulder movements?
"The main feature of Truckin' is the shoulders which rise and fall as the dancers move toward each other as the fore finger points up and wiggles back and forth like a windshield wiper".

I'd love for dance historians to add some input about this.

Ethiopian traditional dance: Eskesta, by Martina Petkova, Published 29th July 2010
..."Ideology – the Ethiopian name “Eskesta” means actually “Dancing shoulders”; it is often practiced in the Northern parts of Ethiopia (Amhara group) where the indigenous tribes of Amhara, Wollo, Gondar etc. are still performing the dance of Eskesta. The motives and characteristics of the dance are often interchanged during the dance by the performers of the variety of war songs, hunting songs, Shepherd songs, love songs and work songs. The best dancer is appointed to the leader of the group and respectively the best singer...

It also is said that this dance was invented because of the snakes. Ethiopian people were often observing the “dance”/movements of the snake, shaking in the same way their neck. On the other hand, in the sphere of indigenous Ethiopian music the influence of the rattlesnake while shaking its tail (the sound it produces) has created a certain way of singing as well.

Furthermore, other symbols and rituals that can be described are these connected with the costumes which each dancer wears. They are often made of woven cotton called “gabbi” or “netella” and painted with different colors depending on the gender of the dancer.

Technique – dance performed both from men and women with their head, neck, chest and shoulders, shaking in specific ways; the music played during the dance is often produced with the traditional Ethiopian instruments like krar, flute, drums and mesenko. The dancers sometimes sing or in some places of the dance utilize the silence in order to stress out some prevailing moments of the dance. There are however some variations depending on the areas in which this dance is performed – Wollo, Gondar or Gojjam."...
DISCLAIMER: With regard to the author's comment that the Eskista dance imitates the movement of snakes, I also read a comment in a YouTube viewer comment thread that the female Eskista dancers were supposed to be imitating the movement of birds. I'm not sure if either or both of these theories are accurate.

I'd love to add links to and quotes from Ethiopians about the history & meanings of the Eskista dance.

Example #1: Gonder Kinet Troupe - Gedame

cybrmstr, Uploaded on Dec 17, 2008

One of the best Iskista

Example #2:Song Ethiopian music eskista collection 4 track 10

Jimy Smith, Published on Nov 13, 2013
Update: May 3, 2016 - This video replaces an earlier featured video that is no longer available.

Example #3: ethiopia-music

Kanal von donell21, Uploaded on Jan 25, 2011

THE OLD HARLEM SHAKE (United States early 2000s)
Example #1: G Dep-Let's Get It

Dezerin3, Uploaded on Mar 3, 2009
The Saga Continues....
The spaces in the audio of this video are indications that this is a clean version of this Hip-Hop song. Please be aware that this YouTube video comment thread and other YouTube comment threads of videos featured on this page contain comments that include profanity, racist remarks, sexually explicit remarks and other content that isn't acceptable for children.

Example #2: How to do the Harlem Shake

Phronesis7, Uploaded on Jul 14, 2007

A bunch o kids from Harlem (I think) show people how to do the Harlem Shake....
This video may actually be from the 1990s or earlier.

Example #1: How to Do the Harlem Shake

dancing·627, Uploaded on Mar 25, 2010

The Harlem shake is a dance move that involves pivoting the shoulder out while bringing the other shoulder out at the same time. Discover how the Harlem shake is mainly comprised of shoulder shaking with help from professional hip-hop dancers and choreographers in this free video on doing the Harlem shake.

Example #2: How to Do the Harlem Shake

Mahalodotcom, Published on Sep 27, 2011


Chicken Noodle Soup

WebstarVEVO, Uploaded on Nov 22, 2009

Music video by Webstar, Young B performing Chicken Noodle Soup. (C) 2006 Universal Records, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

"The Harlem Shake is an Internet phenomenon based on viral videos that began to gain popularity in early February 2013,[1] following the release of a video by the YouTube comedy vlogger Filthy Frank. The original video was published on January 30, 2013, which featured a compilation comedy, where he then made his later video the Harlem Shake containing the original extended gag. The meme originated in Queensland, Australia after five Australian teenagers known as 'The Sunny Coast Skate' created a Harlem Shake video, that went viral due to their large following on YouTube.

The videos feature the song Harlem Shake by electronic musician Baauer, and a dancing style not to be confused with the original Harlem Shake.[2] Normally, each video begins with one person (often masked) dancing to the song alone for 15 seconds, surrounded by other people unaware of the dancing individual. When the bass drops, the camera transitions to the entire crowd doing the dance for the next 15 seconds, often wearing a minimum of clothes or crazy outfits or costumes while wielding strange props.[3] The success of the video was attributed to its break out moment and short length [4] of which the first version of the widely accepted and adopted internet meme was created by five teenagers known as The Sunny Coast Skate from Queensland, Australia.[5][6] The phenomenon spread due to the number of people replicating and uploading similar videos.[6] In the first nine days, over 11,000 versions of the popular internet meme had been uploaded, garnering over 44 million unique views, and averaging over 4,000 new variations each day.[6]"

The Best of Harlem Shake

HTFDIGH,Published on Feb 17, 2013

Click for more information about the history of the 1981 albee and more details about the history of the 2013 Harlem Shake Internet meme (Alert: There's one early example of profanity in that article.)

Click for examples of R&B/Hip-Hip videos of real Harlem Shake dancing (with the times given that that dancing occurs in those videos). However, some of those videos are NSFW (Not Safe For Watching At Work - and therefore, in my opinion, aren't suitable for children.

Click for the pancocojams post "West African Roots Of The Harlem Shake Shoulder Movements"

Thanks to the composers of these songs, and thanks to all of the performers & dancers in these featured videos. My thanks also to the authors of the articles that are quoted in this post, and the uploaders of these featured videos.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment