Harlem Shake Yourself Healthy

Hugh Bassett explores the benefits of Harlem Shaking.



Two weeks ago, five teenagers from Australia uploaded a video of them dancing onto YouTube. This afternoon I found myself standing next to girl with a giant crisp packet on her head and about two thousand other revellers on the steps of one of the most iconic buildings in London, dancing like a maniac. Welcome to the Harlem shake, and the awesome power of the Internet.

The original video, where one man in mask stands in a room full of otherwise uninterested people, dancing to the song ‘Harlem Shake’ by electronic artist Baauer, before the chorus kicks in and everyone else starts going beserk, has started an Internet phenomenon the likes of which have never seen before.






Within eight days of the first film being uploaded, 4,000 duplicate versions were being added to the site per day. At the moment there are around 45,000 homages to The Harlem Shake currently circulating in cyberspace.

The popularity of the video has been down to a number of factors. A re-creation by Internet vlogger Filthy Frank uploaded the same day appeared to spark the trend, which can be attributed to the fact that the videos are easy to  make, don’t involve language and involve an element of competition. The one filmed today at UCL has attempted to be the largest one in Britain.

The ‘meme’ has managed to get Baauer’s track to number one on the US iTunes chart, and has been replicated by celebrities and lay people alike, including various American news teams, rapper Azealia Banks and even an underwater addition by  the University of Georgia’s swim team.






Yet the popularity of the video doesn’t just show that there a lot of people with too much time and outlandish fancy dress to spare, it goes some way to rehabilitating the image of the Internet, and highlights that as a people, we need The Harlem Shake and activities like it.

You don’t have to look particularly far to find accusations that our collective obsession with the Internet is damaging us. Ranging from problems with concentration, encouraging hypochondria and paedophilia, and a general dumbing down, often concerned with hours of looking at cute pictures of animals, the World Wide Web has been blamed for all manner of ills.

The counter-argument is that the Internet has the power to ‘bring us together’, a concept often scoffed at by people who just spent half an hour checking Facebook only to feel lonelier than ever.  But what these sorts of viral videos show is that in an age where we are increasingly isolated by social boundaries and technology, there exists a force that can bring us together in all our primal glory.

Coming back from the Harlem Shake, the overwhelming feeling was one of elation. Everyone I spoke to confirmed the strange emotion I myself had been experiencing; a sort of collective catharsis brought about by dancing wildly together as a community.

In the 21st century, through our desire for multi-national coffee chains and discount outlet ‘villages’, we’ve lost the positive aspects of living in a tribe. In a city of 12 million people, we are often more likely to feel as if we’re in a pack of one.

The benefits of feeling part of a community extend to more than just being able to borrow someone’s toothpaste when you’ve run out. A multitude of studies have shown that feeling part of a ‘tribe’ is one of the largest factors in life expectancy, including a reduction in obesity, heart attacks, and even cancer.

For the past decade or so, we have struggled to reconcile our new reliance on the Internet with our basic human needs. But what today has shown is that the Internet is its own solution. We’re able to get together in large groups at the drop of a hat to engage in the modern equivalent of dancing round a fire, and it’s a positive thing.

So let’s continue to Harlem Shake, Gangnam Style and generally get together as a tribe, as it might just do us some good. The wearing of crisp packets on your head however will remain optional.