Harlem Shake: When a dance craze goes wrong

Rebecca Lewis

The videos begin with the sound of an electronic bass. One solitary person begins to dance, shaking and shimmying while everybody else within the camera's view stands askance, apparently unimpressed by the reveller and the thumping track by US DJ Baauer. Then, suddenly, chaos descends. The videos cut to the same scene but this time everyone is dressed in ridiculous costumes and everyone is going bananas.

This is the 'Harlem Shake', a dance craze started by five spandex-clad Australian teenagers barely six weeks ago. Since then the internet meme has spread it tentacles around the world, with hundreds of thousands of people giving the 'Harlem Shake' a go, from NHS staff to the English National Ballet.

But for some the 'Shake' has sparked official investigations, protests and even job losses.

The most recent example is that of an Oxford University librarian. Calypso Nash has been sacked after students filmed a full-blooded version of the 'Harlem Shake' in the usually tranquil learning space of St Hilda's College Library.

Ms Nash had been on duty when the students performed the craze, which was filmed at 11:30pm and lasted for all of seven minutes. She was dismissed for failing to prevent the antics, according to Oxford student paper the Cherwell. All of the students who featured in the video have been fined and the offending clip has now been removed from YouTube.

Enraged supporters of Ms Nash have lodged an appeal for the librarian to be reinstated, claiming she had nothing to do with the video, she just happened to be present at the time.

She is not the only one to suffer at the hands of the 'Shake'. Up to 15 miners were sacked when a group of workers performing the craze was uploaded onto the web.

Shot in a mine deep underground in Western Australia, the miners wielded tools and performed the dance while shirtless. The workers were an overnight crew employed by Australian company Barminco for South African miner Gold Fields. The South African company said the group were fired because they had removed their protective gear to shoot the video.

A spokesman said: "Underground mining has strict safety standards as there are accidents and fatalities. The Barminco management saw this as a breach of standards."

A version of the dance filmed on board a packed Frontier Airlines flight from Colorado Springs to San Diego California has also caused problems for its participants.

The Federal Aviation Administration - the US air travel authority - is currently investigating the mid-flight 'Harlem Shake' planned and carried out by a college sports team.

The authority said the filming of the video 30,000ft in the air posed a serious safety risk. The  students - who were members of an extreme frisbee team from Colorado College -  claimed they had asked permission from the cabin crew and fellow passengers first.

In the Middle East the 'Harlem Shake' has become something of a cultural and political hot potato. Four pharmaceutical students were arrested in Cairo, Egypt after they removed some of their clothing and filmed themselves performing the dance. The country has strict public indecency laws. The students' arrest sparked another 'Harlem Shake' - this time performed by 400 activists outside the offices of President Mohammed Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood party (see below).

Back in Britain and a religious education teacher in South Wales was suspended after a video of him and his Year 10 class performing the dance was posted online by one of his students.

Andrew Jones, 29, was disciplined after the video caught the attention of Monmouthshire Council. The educator from Caldicot Comprehensive filmed the dance with a life-size cardboard figure of Pope Benedict XVI.

What do you make of the 'Harlem Shake'? Is it a cause worth dancing for or should it be consigned to the novelty dustbin alongside such crazes as 'The Birdie Song' and 'Gangnam Style'?

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