Harvard’s president stunned a crowd of 300 first-years at an Annenberg Hall study break Monday night when he got down to “Hot in Herre.”
Though Summers did not follow Nelly’s advice in the song to “take off all your clothes,” the Yard was abuzz with speculation about the president’s conduct on the dance floor.
After half an hour of mingling with the first-years, Summers made a short speech welcoming students back from winter break. Then, at about 10 p.m., the lights dimmed, and Summers, surrounded by a cheering crowd, started dancing to the opening chords of the hip-hop smash hit.
In an interview yesterday, the president was quick to clarify that he was an equal-opportunity dancer.
“Let me be very clear. There was no individual student with whom I danced for more than 15 seconds,” he said. “I danced with groups of students several times.”
A camera crew from the CBS television news program “60 Minutes” followed Summers around while he talked and signed dollar bills, attracting a crowd of students in search of their own few moments of network-TV stardom.
But the show’s crew, which came to Cambridge to do a story on Summers and Harvard, left before Summers took to the dance floor.
“I was surprised,” said Aaron E. Tjoa ’06. “You see him giving speeches, but you don’t think he’d do that kind of thing.”
Summers said that while he was a little reluctant to dance, he felt obliged after learning that 30 bucks were riding on his decision.
Nichele M. McClendon ’06 took her prefect up on a bet that Summers would dance with her and, on camera, approached the president as he made his rounds. She said that after jokingly asking for a $5 cut of her winnings, he agreed to dance—but once the music started she couldn’t get through the thick crowd surrounding the bobbing president.
Though she didn’t get her 15 seconds of fame, and thus her $30, she said she was nonetheless impressed by his moves.
“I was very surprised—I thought he was going to gracefully duck out of the scene,” she said. “He was definitely getting down.”
“The lights went off, and then ‘Hot in Herre’ came on, and then I guess he started freaking girls, or whatever,” Tjoa said, laughing.
Summers—whose alleged disapproval of the “danceable education” CD recorded by former Fletcher University Professor Cornel R. West ’74 was the subject of much controversy last year—has no plans to pursue a lucrative career making music videos.
“I daresay [the first-years] were not very impressed with the quality of my dancing, but that’s for others to judge,” he said. “Like somebody said about my tennis, it was a triumph of purpose over inability.”