In 2005 when Matt Harding heard that a video he made of himself dancing in front of international landmarks across the globe was blowing up on YouTube, he had one question:
"What’s a YouTube?”
The video, “Dancing 2005,” had over 650,000 views when Harding discovered it—a lot for the earliest days of the popular video-sharing site. The imposter, posing as Harding, took the video from Harding’s personal website, created a fake PayPal account and was asking for donations.
“I tracked the guy down and I said, ‘Hey, I don’t know who you are, but I’m pretty sure you’re not me,’” Harding laughs. “He wrote back to me and said that he had collected $235 in donations and he’d be willing to share 5 percent of it with me.”
But perhaps the most amusing part for Harding was that the series of dorky dancing clips was a joke at first—a fun way to remember the trip he took across Southeast Asia after quitting his job as a video game designer. His travel companion prompted him to do the dance midway through the journey, and the idea stuck.
“I made the video just as a memento,” Harding says. “I certainly didn’t think the video was going to speak to people in any profound and interesting way like it ended up doing.”
Three videos, a Stride Gum sponsorship and hundreds of countries later—as well as the birth of his son, Max, somewhere in between—Harding is still dancing.
After a four-year hiatus from Internet stardom, in which most of his fans probably wondered where the hell he was, Harding came out with a fourth video in the series titled “Where the Hell Is Matt” earlier this summer.
But this time it’s different—he’s learned the dances of the countries he’s visited and a heck of a lot about the world in the process. In this Q&A with Smithsonian.com, Harding breaks down the evolution of his videos, why he thinks the world is safer than it’s ever been and what dancing with the world really means to him.
In your earlier videos, it’s just you dancing in front of landmarks. But in your latest one, your family has a large presence. Why the change?