The Indiana State University (ISU) pep band and student section stood nonchalantly chatting with their friends during a timeout in a recent men’s basketball game against Wichita State University. While the crowd seemingly ignored him, Sycamore Sam, ISU’s mascot, started dancing with stumbling, gyrating steps to music pumped through the loudspeakers.
After a short pause, the music intensified and the student section erupted into wild gyrations, transforming from silent bystanders into a mix of night club dancers and heavy metal concert goers. As the music thumped, the students flailed their arms and jumped up and down.
This unscripted dance, known as the Harlem Shake, has become the latest internet sensation, consuming 2,782 years of viewing time on YouTube in just one month, according to Today.com. The craze, mostly a feature of college sporting events, likely will make a prime-time appearance during the March Madness basketball tournament.
According to The Independent, the dance attempts to imitate a basketball fan in Harlem, N.Y., who habitually showed up drunk and ran out onto the court during basketball tournament games in Rucker Park. The man would laugh, dance, and shake as game officials tried to remove him from the court.
The music for the dance is set to DJ Bauuer’s single by the same name, and the song is divided into two halves—the first more mellow, for a solo dancer, and the second intensified for crowd participation.
According to Austin Shannon, a senior exercise major at ISU, the idea for a student section performing the Harlem Shake is simple: “Do whatever you want to do, make it as crazy as you can.”
The dance craze is a chance for students to get rowdy and energized for a game without waving provocative signs or chanting curse words at opposing teams or referees. For the most part, when it’s performed in bleachers in a public setting, college students are able to spread their fascination with the fad with seemingly innocent and silly motions.
But the Harlem Shake goes beyond sports events. The point of doing the dance at a game is to have fun and get everyone in the crowd hyped up, but thousands of people, especially college students, have posted YouTube videos of themselves doing the dance with much less innocuous moves.
Students at Christian universities have also posted their own versions. While most of the videos are just silly, some are causing concern among believers.
As Christianity Today pointed out, one YouTube video—Harlem Shake Liberty University-(2 men one Dorm)—features two young men dancing provocatively, with one young man clad only in spandex leggings. One viewer left the comment, “Weird that these are the same kind of LU kids that say homosexuality is a sin.”
And at least one high school principal is trying to dissuade his students from making their school “look bad” by posting Harlem Shake videos that include obscene gestures. The principal at Ridgemont High School in central Ohio suspended several of the school’s basketball players over a video shot in the boy’s locker room.
But basketball fans who may not appreciate the dance craze should brace themselves for the inevitable: March Madness will feature more than one student section doing the Harlem Shake. Media outlets already have started to rank videos posted by teams and fans, who are using the attention to raise their teams’ profile in the tournament.