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How a forgotten ‘90s dance hit made these Terps Internet famous

Learn how to do the new "running man" dance from members of the University of Maryland basketball team. (Video: Ashleigh Joplin/The Washington Post)

Life sounds different lately for Jared Nickens, Jaylen Brantley and Damonte Dodd. When they went to a Maryland women’s lacrosse game, adults approached them and asked them to dance, while showing off their own moves. (“They were awful,” Dodd noted.) Band members at the game started singing in the general direction of Dodd and Nickens. When they talk to their relatives, they receive advice about dancing. And when they walked past a College Park fraternity house a few days ago, they suddenly heard familiar music coming from the house.

“I guess at first they weren’t sure if it was us,” Nickens said. “We got down the street a little further, and then out of nowhere they just started playing the song.”

“The song,” of course, was “My Boo” by Ghost Town DJs, a 20-year-old hit enjoying a bizarre resurgence, thanks to three Terps basketball players, two New Jersey teenagers, half the college athletes in America, and one very weird Internet. The New Jersey kids — Kevin Vincent, 18, and Jerry Hall, 15 — started recording “My Boo” videos featuring a very particular dance step a few months ago, and then posted the videos on Instagram. “The first one kind of went crazy, so I made a second one,” Vincent told me. “And that one just went all over the place.”

Fear the dance craze: Terps set college basketball Instagram aflame

While it was traveling through the tubes, it caught the eye of Nickens, a fellow New Jersey kid. Nickens, Brantley and Dodd were already in the habit of dancing after just about every Maryland practice or workout. (“I mean, we’ve been dancing all year,” Nickens said. “I have my own dance called ‘The Skip,’ ” Dodd added.) And teammates were in the habit of recording the trio’s post-practice moves. When the Terps got back from their first weekend of NCAA tournament games, they started experimenting with the “My Boo” Running Man genre, which requires steadily-moving crossed feet, maybe some props or funny faces, the element of surprise, and that catchy tune that we’ve all heard several thousand times this month.

“We were trying to think of something just to be funny and put on Instagram,” Brantley said. “And I was like ‘Jared, let me jump out the [laundry] cart one time.’ ”

“And then he jumped out the cart [while] I was just recording it,” said Dodd, who serves as camera man. “And then it just blew up.”

That’s an understatement. The handful of videos Nickens has posted on his Instagram account this month have been viewed more than a million times. More importantly, just about every college athlete was inspired to post his own take on this Running Man Challenge.  Basketball players from Wisconsin, Marquette, Villanova, Michigan State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Louisville did it. Football players from Rutgers, Michigan, Virginia Tech and Cal did too. The national champion U-Conn. women did it. Justise Winslow did it. Von Miller did it. Charley Casserly did it. High school players did it. College baseball players did it. Local news anchors did it. The Oregon Duck did it. UFC promoters did it. Chris Brown did it. This list is hopelessly incomplete, and in any case, someone else famous just did it. Everyone has done it.

“The Running Man Challenge is the most glorious new physical comedy meme on the world wide web today,” Mashable wrote.

“The Running Man Challenge is the newest social media dance craze,” Sports Illustrated wrote.

“The Running Man Challenge has taken over the world,” NBC Sports wrote.

“We didn’t expect any of this, honestly,” Nickens said this week. “Out of the all the videos that we made and posted before, it’s just funny how this one is the one that went viral.”

There are so many questions, not least of which is how the New Jersey teens came up with this dance, or whether they actually did. Nickens credits Vincent, the 18-year-old, with whom he’s become Internet friends. And Vincent in turn credits a New Jersey DJ named DJ Little Man with inspiring the dance step, and his own comedic inclinations with perfecting it.

“Me and [Hall] were just bored one day in class, typical teenage stuff, and the song came right in my head and I started singing it,” Vincent explained. “And when I started singing it, [Hall] started dancing. And I thought to myself, ‘I have a little following on my Instagram page, so why not put it on camera and make a little joke? ‘”

Vincent knew the 20-year-old song because he’s an old soul; friends used to call him “Uncle” because he likes to stay home and listen to older music or watch older television shows. The Maryland kids aren’t as old-school; Nickens had never even heard of “My Boo” before this craze. Still, the Terps gave the Running Man Challenge the push it needed to reach critical mass. And while the New Jersey teenagers were initially hurt that everyone was crediting this to the Terps, the two groups have since become friends. After all, this probably wouldn’t have happened without all of them.

At first I was kind of upset, but I’m getting credit now, so I’m good,” said Vincent, who has plans to become a professional comedian. “They’re a sports team; them doing it, all the college sports teams started doing it. So I’m not upset [Nickens] did it. I’m kind of glad he did it. He made it more famous than I did. People were doing it before, but when he did it sparked a global trend. With my followers and his following, we teamed up and created an instant classic.”

Which is where we are now. When Hall came to school recently, “there was a whole bunch of kids that bum rushed me, and they were like ‘Jerry, do the dance!’ ” he recalled.

Television producers are reaching out to Vincent.

“It just hit me so fast that I don’t really know how to take it in right now,” he said. “I’m just an inner-city kid; this is really too much.”

Nickens went from 11,800 Instagram followers to more than 43,000 in a few weeks, “off of just dancing,” as Brantley put it. Brantley went from 8,000 followers to more than 20,000, and his mother called to tell him Facebook commenters were complaining that this dance isn’t actually the Running Man. Dodd got a similar phone call.

“My uncle was pretty mad,” Dodd said. “He said ‘I was doing the Running Man in the ’80s, and that’s not the Running Man.’ He said ‘What y’all doing is just moving your feet.’ And he said ‘We done that before, too.’ ” 

The Terps have danced in the school’s basketball office, and in a College Park 7-Eleven. One shower scene required 10 takes, with a clothed Brantley covering himself in soap. Even Dodd’s bathroom has gotten famous, including his Spongebob shower curtain, which was featured in one video. (“My mom thinks I’m too big for it, but I like it,” Dodd said with a shrug. “I like Spongebob.”)

What happens next? Nickens wants to see Odell Beckham Jr. do the dance, and has publicly challenged him. Brantley wants to find a way to dance with Chris Brown. Coach Mark Turgeon wants his players to turn their dancing into a fundraising opportunity. When the Terps went to a recent party, “we weren’t in there for probably 10 seconds and they played the song,” Brantley said. Still, they would like to correct one misconception: that life as a college basketball player in April is one big dance party.

“I think people are forgetting why we’re actually here,” Nickens said. “I mean, people don’t understand what we go through,” he continued, referencing their class schedule and workout regimen.

We still work out every day,” Brantley said. “We still are in the gym. It’s not like we’re just dancing all day.”

“We’re up for  8 a.m. [workouts], then you come back after class and work out again, and then sometimes we come back at night and shoot,” Nickens continued. “We work out a lot more than we dance. Dancing is only about 15 seconds out of 24 hours.”

Which makes sense. But those 15 seconds are a heckuva lot more viral than the classes and workout sessions. Which is probably why classmates in Brantley’s digital media class want him to dance as part of their presentation on Facebook news, and why the Terps are already working on something new.

“The world has to watch out, because me and Jared, we’ve got another dance,” Brantley said. “And this one is created by us.”