Most YouTube videos are barely worth the time spent watching them and yet the most inane among them can attract millions of viewers. A trio of videos by Matt Harding in recent years, however, are exceptions. What began as a personal souvenir by a silly-dancing traveler grew into two corporate-sponsored trips and a world-wide example of people sharing moments of joy together.
In the “Where the Hell is Matt?” videos, we see Harding doing his peculiar little dance (“I jump up and down and swing my arms”) in front of enchanting and famous places around the world. His infectious exuberance and exotic locales drew a lot of interest from the Internet set when they were released, enabling him to involve many fans and spontaneous dance partners for the third video last year.
Harding’s book about his unique experience, Where the Hell is Matt? Dancing Badly Around the World, offers stories behind many of the 4-second snippets seen in the videos. He describes his nerves before stepping out onto the Kjeragbolten, a rock set precariously between cliffs in Norway, and the terror he felt surrounded by giant crabs on a Christmas Island beach. He also danced with whales, jellyfish, and the heads on Easter Island. He danced at the Korean DMZ, the Brooklyn Bridge, Machu Picchu, and in zero gravity.
His ability to connect to people through dancing — or jumping up and down — was an even more compelling thread in the book. Sure, he was almost jailed in Athens after dancing in front of the Parthenon and had run-ins with pickpockets and scam taxi drivers. [Which, at times, reminded me of scenes from Into Thick Air, a book I reviewed last year.] But when the camera started and his legs moved, people in nearly every culture enthusiastically joined in: African villagers, Japanese waitresses, Huli Wigmen in Papua New Guinea, and large crowds in cities from Seattle to Madrid.
The book’s chapters are brief and almost always on topic. In fact, I was surprised by how little he described his travel or lessons learned between filming sessions. In a few cases, he seemed alarmingly disinterested in the wonder around him. I’m a birder and took mild offense, for instance, when I read “the wandering albatross was my favorite [bird en route to Antarctica] … but when someone would spot a southern sooty snow petrel or whatever, I’d retire to the ship’s bar and order a tall glass of who-gives-a-crap.”
That’s not to say he dismissed the people and societies he wandered amongst. He usually showed the utmost respect to the locals and their culture, and often tried to compensate his dance partners in some way. If the smiles on their faces are indications, though, the joy of physical dance was compensation enough.
The videos are magical and complete in themselves. If you want a little back-story, the book is fine coda.