The YouTube video appears to depict freshmen cadets flanked by upperclassmen at The Citadel.

At one second, it might seem like the six older students are preparing to bark orders at the trio of underlings, all in uniform.

But in a blink, the scene turns into a dance party including nearly 20 people in the dorm room. Some of the younger cadets shake in their underwear and thrust their hips. Another scantily clad young man stands on his head and scissors his bare legs.

Is it a hazing ritual? Probably not. They're doing the “Harlem Shake.” And millions of people have seen it.

The new dance routine has caught fire in recent weeks, sparking controversy for its suggestive convulsions, sometimes peculiar settings — such as a firetruck — and departure from its roots in New York City. Federal authorities opened an investigation this week into a video showing a Colorado sports team dancing on a commercial airliner.

The Citadel version of the “Harlem Shake” is one of tens of thousands posted on YouTube.

Their original video was removed from the website, igniting rumors that the students had been disciplined.

But others have copied the 16-second clip, which even was ranked No. 4 in a YouTube member's Top 10 videos that has been viewed more than 19 million times.

Charlene Gunnells, spokeswoman for the military college in downtown Charleston, said she was aware of the video, but was not permitted to discuss any student disciplinary action because of federal privacy laws.

“We have a lot of great things going on on campus in the next few weeks,” she said. “That's what we're focused on.”

But the school's silence hasn't stopped some YouTube fans from talking.

NORML85, a user who professed to be a Citadel cadet, theorized in a video comment section that the film's creators could face demerit points.

Under the college's book of regulations, unbecoming conduct that could bring “discredit upon the institution or to the uniform” could be punishable by a two-semester dismissal.

“These cadets took the vid down but someone reposted it so its out of their hands now,” wrote NORML85, whose profile photo shows The Citadel's Bulldog mascot. “I don't believe they will get in too much trouble.”

The online craze took hold in early February after some Australian skateboarders filmed themselves dancing for 31 seconds to “Harlem Shake,” a song by the urban dance group Baauer. Their YouTube video features a man in a motorcycle helmet flailing next to a man wearing only his red briefs.

Soon, copycats popped up.

Making such a video requires more creativity than grace. It usually features a lone person dancing in a group, then quickly cuts to several participants engaged in arm-waving, hip-thrusting and shuffling in costumes.

In its opening shot, The Citadel version focuses on three freshmen cadets, or knobs, sporting buzz cuts. They're surrounded by six sharply dressed upperclassmen in service caps; their arms are folded.

The video transitions to a more populated scene with the knobs revealing their white underwear. The upperclassmen's pose remains unchanged, as men in camouflage and helmets dance about.

Douglas Ferguson, a new media professor at the College of Charleston, has been tracking the phenomenon. He said some folks in Manhattan's Harlem have taken offense to the twist on a dance that was popular 30 years ago. The traditional moves, he said, involved a dancer lifting the shoulders and swaying the arms. But they have “devolved into this pelvic thrusting,” Ferguson said.

“Many people think it crosses the line of propriety,” he said. “It's probably not appropriate for your grandmother's 50th anniversary party.”

The Citadel version, he said, appears similar to others. But like past music and dance styles that garnered puritan critics, Ferguson said this one is likely to be short-lived.

“This seems to be the YouTube controversy of the hour,” the professor said. “It's an example of how social media can change public conversation — if only temporary.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.