Being schooled from fool to cool

Dec. 19, 2002, midnight | By Tina Peng | 18 years, 9 months ago

Nerdy senior abandons four eyes and calculator to become a bona fide Harlem shaker

As a sometimes-bespectacled, Snood-playing senior in possession of an unfortunate number of highwater pants, I've recently realized that my public school career has been a 12-year period of unadulterated dorkiness. (I'm in the Magnet).

I've never "got my freak on" or been "jiggy with it," so it's time for me to step out of the box. This may be my last chance to "get down with it," and I'm diving for it, zip disks and TI-83 flying. I'm throwing dorkage to the wind to get my groove thang on and learn how to Harlem Shake.

Shake it fast!

It's hard to ditch years of nerdiness cold turkey, so I indulge in a little pre-groove online research. I find a Feb 21 article in USA Today calling the Harlem Shake "a show-stopping, body-quaking routine that resurrects the ghost of break dancing . . . a kinetic hip-hop extravagance."

According to the article, this body-quaking routine originated almost a decade ago but gained mainstream appeal when it was featured in G. Dep's "Let's Get It" video last spring. How did I miss that?

With the help of some friends, I dress in shake-worthy garb and set off down Blair Blvd to find a master of the craft. I'm not too worried—according to the article, all you have to do is shake like a maniac; what can possibly be so hard about that?

Everything, apparently. Alfonso Angus, who graduated last year but for some reason has chosen to hang out at Blair after school, looks askance at me as I approach him. He claims that he's "retired" and "shy" and hasn't "done this in so long," but I smile winningly, and down we troop to the senior courtyard.

After some hesitation, Angus begins to dance. Limbs fly all over the place, and he almost looks like he's being electrocuted. I'm momentarily frightened—this isn't what I'd envisioned at all—but I grit my teeth and tell myself that although I'm about to make a fool of myself, it's in the name of journalism and coolness.

His demonstration completed, Angus directs me to give it a try myself. "Uh huh," I reply, staring vacantly off into space. "Do you think you could break it down into steps?"

He insists that the Shake is simply a matter of "swinging your arms around." My alarm may be apparent, so he indulges me with more detailed instructions: "Start with your arms and your shoulders moving left to right at the same time. One, two, three, swing to the right. One, two, three, swing to the left." Ooh, numbers! I think. I can work with those.

Pretty soon I'm Shaking, and pretty competently, too. Well, that's what I think until I realize that Angus and his friends are forcibly restraining their laughter.

"You have to move your hips," he advises. This is too complex for me. Nevertheless, I attempt to shake my bon bon and my shoulders at the same time, all the while wondering, Am I cool yet? Am I cool yet?

Eventually, though, Angus realizes that there's something missing from my Harlem Shudder (besides, um, skills): background music. I perk up, imagining myself Shaking in slow motion to "I Want It That Way." "Would the Backstreet Boys work?" I ask hopefully.

"Not even," he replies incredulously. Apparently, the Harlem Shake is designed for hippier, hoppier music, like that of P. Diddy and Eve. I make a mental note to go home and spend the rest of my day practicing to "Bad Boy for Life."

As our lesson draws to a close, I sense that something's still missing from my Harlem Shake. Coordination, maybe? Flow or rhythm? When I ask, Angus diplomatically replies that the most important thing to remember is to make the dance my own. "I was just being myself," he says. "That's what makes one person better than another— creativity." My method, I decide, will consist of pretending that I didn't hear him and continuing to follow his steps exactly.

Holla back

The real test of my newfound skills comes the following day at lunch, when I ask various Blazers to critique my Harlem Shake.

After my performance, a group of Magnet sophomores laughs hysterically and ventures a feeble "it's unique," while senior Drew Thomas has a decidedly more negative opinion.

He starts out with a definitive thumbs-down, but after a friend whacks him, Thomas says that the Harlem Shake is a dubious talent awarded to few. "The Harlem Shake was created by a crackhead who was having a seizure," he says. "And it takes a special kind of person to do it."

Sophomore Beverly Omari and senior Brandy Sanon are more encouraging. They think that I'm too tense: "You have to shake your body more, smile more and be crazier, like you're having a seizure or something," says Sanon. Hmm. There seems to be a consensus on the "seizure" part. Omari chimes in: "You're getting there!"

It's clear that I am no Harlem Shaking prodigy. I'm fine with that, though—all I need is quite a bit of hard practice and a small miracle, and I'll be able to back it up with the best of them.

Until then, it's back to eyeglass holders and t-shirts advertising the summer math camp I attended (six times). The taste of with-it-ness has been interesting, I guess, but that's enough for me— my calculator games are calling my name.

Tags: print

Tina Peng. Tina is a very sagely senior who likes journalism and other things. She cringes when she thinks of her avidly pro-Backstreet Boys bio of last year, but hopes that that will have been forgotten by now. Tina would like to grow up and become a … More »

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