Brownsville students suspended for Harlem Shake video

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The Harlem Shake, an Internet dance video craze, is everywhere. Here, however, the shake has shuddered to a stop.

Thirteen students at Brownsville High School in Fayette County were given two-day suspensions this week after a Harlem Shake video was filmed in a high school classroom and posted online.

"There's nothing wrong with the song. It's just what was done with it," Rocky Brashear, president of the Brownsville Area School Board, said in a phone interview Wednesday, describing the video as "graphic."

The shake, for those not familiar with it, has swept through the Internet in recent weeks.

"The Harlem Shake has exploded," YouTube announced in a trend report posted Feb. 12 on its video-sharing website. Since the beginning of the month, 12,000 Harlem Shake videos were posted to the website and viewed 44 million times.

Three days later, the explosion continued and YouTube needed to update its numbers. As of Friday, there were 40,000 Harlem Shake videos on YouTube that had been viewed 175 million times.

Most of the videos employ the same simple formula: One person, usually wearing a mask or costume, gyrates to a song by music producer Baauer for several seconds alone, until a jump cut reveals that the lone dancer has been joined by several others. Local high schools, including the Vincentian and Montour boys basketball teams, have made their own.

Earlier this week, the shake arrived at Brownsville High School.

A little more than a dozen students in a class of about 30 were involved in filming the video, Mr. Brashear said. The students involved were suspended due to their conduct, because they refused to listen to a substitute teacher's instructions to stop and because filming a video in a classroom constituted a safety issue, he said.

The Brownsville students' 29-second video was posted on YouTube on Tuesday with the title "Harlem Shake Brownsville Style" and the caption: "We all were suspended for this. Made the news too! View and tell everyone! It's hilarious. Did in about 5 mins tho! Haha"

The dance was filmed three times Monday in a digital photography class, said Kathleen Broadwater of Grindstone. Her 15-year-old daughter Alyssa, a sophomore, filmed the dance on an iPad and was one of the students suspended.

Mrs. Broadwater said the students originally were given permission to film the dance by the substitute teacher, and later when the teacher asked them to stop, the students did not think it was a serious request.

The video was "maybe a little untasteful, yeah," Mrs. Broadwater said, but she did not agree with the students' suspension.

"My daughter never gets in trouble," she said. "All her report cards say she's a pleasure to have in class."

The shake may no longer be shimmying in Brownsville, but it goes on -- and on and on -- all around the Internet, prompting the question: Just what is it about the Harlem Shake that inspires so many spinoffs?

"I think the beauty of a dance like that is that anybody can do it because there's nothing technically required. All you have to do is shake it out," said Brenna Jaworski, founder and owner of Pittsburgh Heat Hip Hop Dance Company.

She pointed out that in most of the videos posted online, no one is doing the actual Harlem Shake that dates back decades, a real dance move "kind of like a boogie" involving the shoulders.

Tonight, yielding to numerous requests from her students, Ms. Jaworski will join the craze and film her own Harlem Shake video with her class.

Her version, she said, will involve the real Harlem Shake.

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Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.


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