Harlem Shake: Keep the Meme but Save the Dance

In a piece for The Root DC, Robert Samuels says there's a fine line between cultural reappropriation and cultural evolution. 

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In a piece for The Root DC, Robert Samuels says there's a fine line between cultural reappropriation and cultural evolution.

A little more than a decade ago, a nerdy, lanky black teenager from the Bronx stood in front of a mirror in his bedroom. He had come home from a dance party at a debate tournament and was duly embarrassed that, of all his friends, he had the least amount of rhythm.

For two hours, he gazed into that mirror trying to learn a dance he had spotted in a hip-hop video with G. Dep and P. Diddy for the song, "Let's Get It." He shuffled his shoulders; wiggling arms from side to side. Soon, he got it. And he vowed he would never be embarrassed to dance at a party again.

That kid was me. That move was the Harlem Shake. And it completely frustrates me to see what has been going on with my beloved dance, although I'm sure I'm nowhere as peeved as some who live in Harlem, who view the dance as the latest thing to be mangled and robbed from the country's cultural black mecca.

I am by no means a musical purist. I prefer "American Idol" winner Kris Allen's version of "Heartless" to Kanye's overly Auto-Tuned original, and my parents, who are from Jamaica, have come to accept that No Doubt's rock-based ska was the closest thing I'd get to purchasing a complete reggae album.

But there is a fine line between cultural reappropriation and cultural evolution. Those examples actually show some fidelity to the original craft; what has congested the Internet Superhighway does not.

Read Robert Samuels' entire piece at The Root DC.

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