Where the Hell Is Matt? Everywhere.

Meet Matt Harding, the man behind the viral video sensation, who has traveled the world, dancing like no one has before

(Matt Harding)

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It means a lot of different things to me on a bunch of different levels. There are a lot of things I wanted to say. The last shot of me with my girlfriend, Melissa, and my son, Max, on my shoulders is me, in one sentence, saying, “This is really important to me.” A lot of people watch the video and they are sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for a sponsor’s logo to pop up in the end, to see who paid for this. I funded the video myself and I wanted people to know that there’s not a corporate message here—this matters a lot to me. It’s an expression of what I believe is important and what I want to pass on to my kid and my family—this is what I think really matters.

What really makes it personal is how hard Max is laughing when he’s on your shoulders—it is just absolutely beautiful to watch.

I get a lot of concerned mothers warning me about shaken baby syndrome. If they only knew how much that kid shakes—he does it on his own. [Laughs]

But that shot always gets to me, too, actually—especially the first time I showed it in front of an audience. I usually have to get up and talk after showing the video, and I’m always a bit choked up.

I also realized that if I didn’t put Max in the video, he was going to be annoyed at me for the rest of his life. We [Melissa and I] kind of went back and forth: Did we want to be that exposed? It’s our yard, it’s my son—it’s a really delicate thing, but I also realized that there’s a flip side if he’s shut out of it. It’s a little weird to have the whole world looking at your kid saying, “Hey, your son’s really cute,” but it’s turned out really well.

What else is different about your latest video?  

There is a darkness in this one that is really a big part of the video. I don’t think it would work without it. And that’s something we struggled with because the tone comes largely from the music. If it’s all happy, happy, joy, joy, it feels very wrong when you’re looking at places like Rwanda or Afghanistan, where you’ve got to acknowledge the darkness. The power of dance and laughter allows us to process, cope with and transcend all of the bad stuff.

So it was a judgment call, really, about including places like Somalia and the Sudan. I think the most important thing that people can do is go to these places and show a side that you don’t usually see. Pretty much everything you hear out of Somalia is going to be bad news, but that’s not necessarily the reality there—all the time, anyway.

In your AMA [Ask Me Anything, a popular feature on Reddit], you commented how your global travel reminded you of the expression “man bites dog.” In what ways have your traveling experiences shown you something different than what is reported in the media?

You can go pretty much anywhere in the world now and be virtually assured of your safety. And I include places that we don’t think of as safe at all: North Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq. People are glad to see you for the most part, honestly. We don’t realize that because we’re constantly being battered with the message of all of the terrible things that are going on in the world, and I don’t blame the media for that.

The media is supposed to say, “Here’s what happened today that you should know about,” and it’s usually bad things. It’s not the media’s job to say, “Hey, everybody, guess what? Things are relatively safe right now! They are a lot safer than they were even a generation ago, crime is down and there is less war going on.” I travel a lot and I’m always amazed to see this. We react to visceral stimuli—we hold that in our heads, but in actuality we’ve managed to create for ourselves a safe, open global civilization. It’s happened very recently—we don’t get to pat ourselves on the back for it—but it really is pretty remarkable the world we live in right now. Part of the purpose of the video for me is to say, “Hey! Look around! Look what we did, this is pretty fantastic.”

The clip of you dancing with the children in Rwanda in your 2006 video is a perfect example of that. What about your experience there changed the way you planned for future videos?

It was the first time I was in a place where I didn’t know what to film. Usually it’s very easy: I go to places that have landmarks. In India I’ll go to the Taj Mahal, and even somewhere like Borneo, I’ll go into the wilderness. It wasn’t on the radar at that point that I should be dancing with people because I’m not much of an extrovert. I’m the last person in the world who would be gathering a crowd of people together and saying, “Hey, everybody, let’s dance!” It’s really funny that that’s ended up being my job.

About K. Annabelle Smith
K. Annabelle Smith

K. Annabelle Smith is a writer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico who covers a wide variety of topics for Smithsonian.com. Her work also appears in OutsideOnline.com and Esquire.com.

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