‘Harlem shake’ videos highlight common humanity

Flash-mob dancers do the Harlem shake in Berlin last week.
AFP/Getty Images
Flash-mob dancers do the Harlem shake in Berlin last week.

For proof that people are the same everywhere, look no further than the “Harlem shake” YouTube craze. It started in Australia. A lone kid filmed himself performing the gyrating dance in a motorcycle helmet. His friends ignore him, until suddenly they too start gyrating wildly. That’s it. The clip is only 30 seconds long.

But it has been viewed more than 18 million times and sparked copycats globally: In Norway, a soldier in camouflage gyrates in military formation. In Iran, a man gyrates with a blue shirt over his face. The “Harlem Shake” has even been performed in flight: Colorado College’s ultimate Frisbee team staged the dance on a plane to San Diego. The effort sparked an FAA investigation, but clearly there’s no danger in what’s become a form of cross-cultural bonding.

If anything, these silly videos make the world safer, as people connect across borders. As ordinary Americans share videos with ordinary people in China, Pakistan, and Iran, it’s hard not to be optimistic.


In some countries, participating in the Harlem shake craze has become a political act. In Cairo, protesters danced outside the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters to show their disdain for the group’s conservative ideology. In Tunisia, activists performed in front of the Ministry of Education, while shouting, “Freedom! Freedom!” Ultra-conservative Islamists have denounced the dance as “indecent.” Plenty of American parents might agree, but that’s yet another reminder that we’re not so different after all.