UI professor’s dance challenge to Harreld goes viral

Professor Kembrew McLeod wanted to make engaging lecture introduction videos in an effort to brighten his students’ day. It led to him filming a dance video that went viral on TikTok, challenging Harreld to a dance off.


Ryan Adams

Communications Studies Professor and Department Chair Kembrew McLeod dances in a viral TikTok video that has garnered over 730,000 likes, showing the professor challenging University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld to a dance battle. President Harreld has yet to comment on or accept the dance battle from Professor McLeod.

Natalie Dunlap, News Reporter

Engaging with students through pre-recorded lectures is no easy task, but when University of Iowa Professor of Communications Kembrew McLeod challenged UI President Bruce Harreld to a dance off, he caught the attention of his students and 2.5 million TikTok users.

UI sophomore Chloe Weidl said she was sitting in her friend’s dorm room watching the week four lecture introduction for her music and social change class. The video began with McLeod dancing to “Planet Rock,” showing off a series of body rolls, a jump split, and a backspin.

Out of breath, he said to the camera that he had just been practicing some moves because he planned to challenge Harreld to a dance off.

“I warn you Bruce, if you’re watching this, you better check yourself before you wreck yourself, because I will certainly wreck you on the dance floor,” McLeod said in the video.

Weidl said she took out her earbuds and turned to the friends she was studying with to show them the video. They all laughed over it, and a few days later, Weidl said she decided to share it on TikTok.

Within a few hours, the dance-off video received 150,000 views.

“I think during this pandemic, it’s really hard for a lot of professors to adapt to the online format, and it’s hard for kids to find the same kind of comfort and joy as they might in an in-person class,” Weidl said. “And so, I believe that a big reason it blew up was because people just sort of saw it as an example that online classes can be fun and that professors can be really quirky and imaginative.”

UI sophomore Emerson Peaslee, a friend of Weidl, said she thought the challenge to Harreld specifically contributed to the video’s success.

“Right when she showed me the TikTok, I knew it was going to blow up because it was just so perfect and so funny,” Peaslee said.

Currently, the original video has 2.5 million views and more than 730,000 likes. Weidl has also posted follow up videos as McLeod has further committed to the bit.

This was not the first creative introduction video McLeod has posted for his students, he said.

“When I was shifting this to an online format because of the pandemic, I was working with online education people, and they told me that I should introduce each class with a kind of personal introduction, so that the students can put a face to a name,” he said. “And that’s basically what I did, so I started coming up with goofy things.”

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When planning for his week four introduction, he said he thought it would be funny if instead of starting the video sitting at his desk, the video began with him in the middle of dancing.

“I already had talking points prepared about … the general subject matter that we were covering,” McLeod said. “And I just thought it would be funny also that I would be delivering it while I was out of breath because I had been dancing.”

Though he didn’t anticipate that the video would end up on social media, he said he thought it was hilarious when Weidl informed him about his internet fame, and his nine-year-old son was proud to see his dad going viral.

McLeod has pulled pranks over the years, he said, and though he didn’t intend the dance challenge to reach a wider audience, it still accomplished the goal of his other pranks.

“It was not a prank in that I didn’t perceive the ripple effects that it would have,” he said. “But it falls within the spectrum of a prank in that yeah, I was trying to sort of pull the rug out from under the expectation students had of what they were expecting when they logged in to see that lecture.”

Weidl said watching people interact with the dance-off TikTok video has been uplifting and allowed her to make virtual connections with other students.

“[The TikTok] put a more positive spin on online classes not just for my followers but, for me too,” Weidl said. “It’s made me look forward to online classes and seeing how the professors adapt and stuff, so yeah, it’s just made the whole experience better.”

As for the dance battle, McLeod said he hasn’t heard back from Harreld.

“Basically, if I don’t hear from Bruce by the end of the month, I’m going to drop like a next-level promo video that will probably make people smile,” he said. “So, there’s another thing coming over the horizon. I can’t get into the timing of it, that by the end of the month or Nov. 1 let’s say. So, I’ve given him until that time to respond.”