Following the massive popularity of the Harlem Shake video trend, students organized a flash mob dance as a gag that ended up being no laughing matter.
“It started out as kind of a joke,” said Saphir Esmail, a sophomore international business major. “I had seen the videos on YouTube before so I made a Facebook event and just invited my friends.”
Esmail first hosted his Facebook event with roommate Noël Zalla and friend Rishi Agarwal without a set date or time. They had the idea, but needed someone to execute it.
“They said on the event page they needed someone to film it,” said Brandon Shain, a sophomore film and media arts major. “I had my own equipment so I volunteered to record it and they graciously agreed.”
With a director on board, they set the date for Feb. 15. In the course of a week, the number of invitees had quadrupled and was traveling even faster by word of mouth.
“I got there early that day,” Zalla, a junior architecture major, said. “And there were hundreds of kids on the grass waiting. I saw the crowd and thought, ‘What did we just do?’”
Hundreds of students gathered near the Bell Tower and spilled onto 13th Street that Friday afternoon.
“There were so many people who wanted to be in the video,” Shain said. “And a lot were just watching so we had this massive crowd. They weren’t willing to listen to us.”
It became so rowdy that sophomore theater major Darryl Daughtry said he had to rescue his friends from getting trampled.
“I was walking from class and saw the hundreds of people,” Daughtry said. “I didn’t have any official role, but I went up to Rishi and asked, ‘What do you need?’ He told me the crowd needed to move back, so I got on it.”
“Harlem Shake,” a song released last year by DJ Baauer, is an allusion to the early 1980s dance. The Internet video meme showcases people spontaneously breaking into moves that have little to do with the song namesake.
“It’s not the Harlem Shake,” Esmail said. “It’s something new. I don’t know who started doing these videos or why, but I congratulate them. It worked.”
The meme actually originated on Feb. 2 with five teenagers in Queensland, Australia, who replied to a crazy costumed video by comedy YouTube vlogger Filthy Frank.
Students showed up at the Bell Tower decked out in similar bizarre attire trying to gain camera time. Agarwal stole the show with his solo dance number in a Darth Vader helmet and suit, but he was one of the least absurd characters among two Deadmau5 heads, a horse-masked couple and a Spider-Man cardboard cut-out.
It was entertaining to say the least for eyewitnesses, including freshman university studies major Pooja Shah.
“I saw people with crazy costumes and wondered how most of them even had that stuff,” Shah said. “It looked so unbelievably chaotic and unorganized.”
Following the spirit of insanity, freshman film and media arts major Jon Plester took the proposed dress code and ran with it.
“People just asked themselves what was the craziest thing they could possibly do,” Plester said. “So, naturally, I wore a luchador mask and took my shirt off.”
The whole process of dancing and filming took 15 minutes and it would only take an hour before the 30-second video went viral.
“As soon as we were done, we ran to the TECH Center and edited it in five minutes,” Shain said. “Then we put it on YouTube and watched the views climb.”
The video had more than 47,800 views as of press time.
Esmail wasn’t the first student to seek his place in the hype. Videos have been popping on the Web featuring Temple organizations and students filming in their dorm rooms and all around Main Campus. Insomnia Theater notably used the Harlem Shake to promote its Feb. 16 show. Not every club had the same agenda.
“We were honestly doing it for fun,” said Nai Soto, a junior early education major and president of the Temple Fencing Club. The club released its version on Feb. 20. “We weren’t trying to promote ourselves. We just wanted to watch it and laugh.”
“We thought we had an opportunity to make a really unique video because of our 17th-century costumes,” said junior theater major Tom McGovern who worked with his fellow cast mates from Temple’s “The Liar” for their Feb. 17 video. Their rendition uniquely features a dog dancing in their dressing room. “I may be biased, but I think I prefer our video.”
While other Temple-related Harlem Shakes have yet to touch the success in viewers of the “official” video, there is a price to fame. The Bell Tower production has been receiving a lot of negative feedback for “sloppy organization” and “poor timing.” The promoters said they take the insults in stride.
“We caught it at the end of the trend,” Shain said. “But it was just for fun. I laugh at the people who get so negative about it.”
“Let them hate,” Esmail said. “We did it. There’s nothing anyone can do.”
The volunteers who helped make the video possible have a similar attitude.
“It was kind of beating a dead horse,” Plester said. “We were barely making a dent, but we were a part of something big and crazy. It was euphoric.”
The Facebook organizers have future plans to gain notoriety on their own terms without the Baauer remix.
“We’ve got a few ideas,” Zalla said. “Hopefully, we’ll have something for Spring Fling.”
“I’m kind of ‘Harlem shook out’ at this point,” Shain said. “I’ll keep checking back on the video, but I’ve got to turn off the volume. As catchy as it is, I can’t hear that song anymore.”
Jessica Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.