A brief history of the Harlem Shake

Forget Gangnam Style, a new dance craze has a billion followers online, Emily Dugan and Louise Fitzgerald show some moves

It may look like an uncoordinated display of flailing arms and wriggling torsos, but that has not stopped the Harlem Shake becoming an internet phenomenon, watched by more than 700 million people around the world in just one month. On 2 February, the first comedy video featuring five Australian teenagers dancing wildly around a room to a track called "Harlem Shake" was uploaded to the video-sharing site YouTube.

Since then, the Norwegian army, Manchester City FC and TV's The Simpsons and many others have produced their own versions. The moves have even been performed as a flashmob on a plane, thanks to an enterprising Colorado ultimate Frisbee team. But the globe-spanning internet meme would never have existed were it not for a drunk who wandered on to a New York basketball court in the 1980s.

Al B – full name Albert Leopold Boyce – died of heart failure in 2006 aged 43, after years of drinking heavily, but, in his prime, he was known for creating the Harlem Shake dance move. He used to perform it as part of the half-time entertainment show in basketball tournaments at Rucker Park, New York.

His 69-year-old mother, Sandra Boyce, told a New York newspaper: "When Al was dancing, we told him to try to put a patent on it."

Family friend Tony Arias, said: "He would be drunk, and when you went to get him to get off the court he would start laughing and performing the shake."

The dance became known around Harlem as the "Al B", but it was not long before local teenagers picked it up and it was renamed the Harlem Shake. Since then it has inspired a club track of the same name.

Al B could never have predicted the spectacular style in which the dance might come back – courtesy of the five Australian teenagers, known on YouTube as the Sunny Coast Skate. Their comedy music video, like all its 30-second imitations, begins with the shout of "Con los terroristas!" – Spanish for "With the terrorists!" – and one person, dressed in a helmet, dances alone while others in the room sit around looking oblivious. When the beat drops, another voice says "Do the Harlem shake" and everyone starts wiggling their shoulders and gyrating in wild outfits.

It has spawned more than 100,000 imitations, and the boys from south-east Queensland have been amazed by its success. "I think it's pretty crazy. I didn't think anyone would care at all," Corey Walsh, a 15-year-old high school student who appears in the video, told a local paper. "Some of the groups, like the US army doing it, it's pretty crazy the way it's taken off."

Baauer, a 23-year-old DJ from Brooklyn, whose real name is Harry Rodrigues, recorded the track last year and released it on 22 May with little fanfare. It was initially free to download, but he was already charging when the Australian video using it first went viral.

The song is No1 in the US Billboard charts for the second week, and is No3 in the UK Top 40 chart. As well as track sales, Baauer will have made money from imitations, thanks to a new YouTube feature that checks content for copies and ploughs some of the advertising revenue back to the maker of the original. Called Content ID, it is said to have contributed to the success of South Korean singer Psy, who shot to fame with his catchy video of the song "Gangnam Style", making a reported £580,000 from YouTube advertising alone.

In an interview with the American online magazine The Daily Beast, Baauer said: "It's gotten absolutely insane. All I did was make the song, so it's kind of a weird place for me to be at. I birthed it, it was raised by others, and now it's like my weird, teenage kid coming back to me."

Top of the shakes

2 Feb The original, in an Australian schoolkid's bedroom

7 Feb "Harlem shake with my son" has dad and son dancing feverishly

7 Feb The Peanuts version, featuring an edit of Snoopy, the cartoon dog

7 Feb American firemen turn into Spider-Man and a giant chicken

10 Feb The Norwegian army breaks into the shake mid-drill

11 Feb A US swim team do the dance underwater

15 Feb An ultimate Frisbee team shake on a plane to San Diego

20 Feb Members of Manchester City football club do their own version

28 Feb Protesters in Egypt shake outside the Islamist government HQ

1 March The Simpsons version is called the "Homer Shake"

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering