Goofy internet dance goes global
A goofy dance started in a Brisbane office block has taken the world by storm and its creator, Matthew Harding, to the four corners of the globe and most places in between.
Harding, 31, is the latest internet celebrity to ride YouTube fame all the way to the bank, but, unlike the transient notoriety most web video stars enjoy, Harding's 15 minutes of fame have been going on for three years.
Over the past 14 months, Harding and his girlfriend have been on a tour to 42 countries for the sole purpose of filming him dancing badly at various international locations and in front of some of the world's most famous landmarks.
The result is a 4½-minute video clip, published at the end of last month, which has already attracted more than 6.5 million views on YouTube and more than 1.5 million views on Vimeo.
It shows Harding doing his geeky jive with Bollywood dancers in Gurgaon, India, with humpback whales in Tonga, with lemurs in Madagascar and even in zero gravity in Nellis Airspace, Nevada. Sydney, Brisbane, Christmas Island and Lancelin in Australia all get a showing, too.
All of Harding's expenses, plus a healthy profit, were covered by his sponsor, Stride gum.
Being paid to travel to the most exotic locations on the planet isn't a bad way to earn a living, and Harding, whose dance has taken him around the world on three occasions, is under no illusions about how lucky he is.
"It's everything - it's an opportunity to see the world, go to all the places I've ever wanted to go and then create something that is really meaningful to people," he said in a phone interview that was interrupted when he saw himself parodied on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.
"It makes people want to travel but I think it also broadens their horizons and shows them just how big the world is; they're more aware of how interconnected we all are on this planet."
After high school, Harding, following his dad's advice, decided to skip university and become a video game developer. His career took him to Brisbane's Pandemic Studios in 2000 for 2½ years, where he devised his now infamous jig.
His first video, filmed while travelling with a co-worker and published on his website in January 2005 before the days of YouTube, was made simply as a running gag for family and friends but quickly spread virally across the web. It was viewed about 2 million times.
The clip was noticed by Stride, which approached Harding in August 2005 offering to sponsor a second outing. On that trip, Harding visited 39 countries and the resulting video has been viewed more than 10 million times.
Now, done with his third clip, Harding feels he's finally found the winning formula. This time, instead of dancing alone, he appears with an ensemble cast of thousands of fans and locals.
"I got thousands of emails in response to the second video from people saying 'come to my country and dance', and so ... we emailed the people in all of these countries and said 'I'm going to be in this place at this time, come out and meet me' - and they did," he said.
"I'm really proud of this video a lot more than the other ones because I think it makes a statement that's worth making. It's a very simple thing - there's a few things that we all do and I think we all ought to be reminded of those commonalities."
Harding said he relished the chance to show the humanity and warmth emanating from some of the world's poorest and most unstable places. He said he was now working on various charity projects, including one with the United Nations to bring laptops to poor children in Rwanda.
And while he has garnered countless friends, worldwide fame and a good deal of money on his journeys, Harding knows he can't keep up his shtick forever.
"With these videos that I'm doing I don't know that there's much more to say and so I may be done," he said.
"Right now at least I'm going to just sit back and relax because I've been travelling for the last year and a half and I'm happy to just be home now - I'm not too worried about what's coming next."
Sydney Morning Herald