On Feb. 18, roughly 200 University of Maine students met on the New Balance Student Recreation Center basketball courts to participate in the latest Internet sensation to go viral: the “Harlem Shake.” The newly popular dance was organized by Ron Lisnet, a visual media liaison from the Department of Marketing and Communications. Bananas T. Bear was among the dancers, along with members of the UMaine Cheering Squad, as well as students dressed in a variety of humorous costumes.
Following an explosion of videos on YouTube — including a version produced by the UMaine Track Team — several student groups used Facebook to orchestrate their own productions, andLisnet stepped in to bring everyone together.
“We had seen that this was a trend going viral and thought we would try it,” Lisnet said. “We saw a bunch of groups already organizing, so we contacted them to join together with us.”
Many students involved said that they participated because it was a fun way to express school spirit and join in on the Internet trend.
“I was going to dress as a cow, but a friend of mine happened to have a dinosaur costume, so I took the opportunity,” said Erin Donahue, a first-year kinesiology and physical education student who is concentrating in athletic training. “A friend knew about it before it was on Facebook. I got involved because it’ll be a fun memory, a few years from now.”
Alexander Chandler, the opening dancer for the video, was surprised when he was approached to don a hockey mask and dance a solo.
“I expected them to have someone already chosen, and I was just going to be one of the people in the back” he said, confessing, “I hadn’t even heard of the ‘Harlem Shake’ until I got invited to [the UMaine event] on Facebook, then I watched some on YouTube and thought they were funny.”
Chandler went on to say that leading the dance for a YouTube video was out of the ordinary for him, but worth it.
“Normally, I would never have done something like that — it was very out of character. But they gave me the opportunity, so I went for it. It was really fun,” Chandler said. “I think I did well. I mean, I hope so because I’m the guy in the front so everyone is going to see me.”
But, with almost 200 fellow students flailing away behind him, Chandler was far from alone.
The dance itself originated several months ago on YouTube and gained the status of epidemic on the Internet. Soon, a variety of office workers, military units and universities began to duplicate the dance’s signature style.
The dance begins with a solo dancer among a group of stationary or passive bystanders. In the many iterations, the first dancer is usually masked, moving his or her shoulders back and forth or launching into a set of pelvic thrusts to the beat of the music. As the beat reaches a crescendo, the frame cuts from the solo dancer into a scene of outright pandemonium. The formerly stationary bystanders become animate, often costumed, dancing upside down, sideways or in other ridiculous but amusing ways.
The UMaine’s version included a cardboard cutout of Shaquille O’Neal, a student in German lederhosen, a Teletubby, a dinosaur and several Rec Center workers who burst out of a rolling bin of towels.
“Everyone has a fun time doing something silly, with some creative dance moves,” Lisnet said, after the event was filmed. “We put some thought into getting involved with the students, and we decided to take our shot and have some fun.”