Talking travel with the celebrated dancing Matt

I’m here with Matthew Harding, who will be forever known as “that guy who makes those silly dancing videos.” That’s not a bad rep to have, given that everyone from The New York Times to The Today Show wants a piece of him. And did I mention his around-the-world trip was paid for by a gum company? How’s that for entrepreneurship–and avoiding a 9-5 office job.

He’s here to give us the scoop on his travels and what went into making his viral videos. For more (fourth video perhaps?), check out his website here.

Most of the soundtracks to your videos come from obscure artists. How do you pick out the background music?

For the first video, I just slapped on Sweet Lullaby by Deep Forest. I tried a bunch of songs, but it was the only one that fit.

For the second video, I still wanted to use the same vocal track, which was actually sung by a woman named Afunakwa in the Solomon Islands around 1971, but I wanted to create new music. I contacted my friend, Garry Schyman, who is a composer working mainly in videogames, and he wrote something entirely new to go with those same vocals.

For the third video, Garry and I both wanted to try something new. Garry found a poem by an Indian writer named Rabindranath Tagore and I tracked down a girl named Palbasha Siddique who was able to sing the poem in its original Bengali. Garry and Palbasha worked together to make the lyrics fit the composition he’d written for the video.
With your third video, which was sponsored by Stride, the gum company, how much of your travels was about filming and how much was about seeing the world?

The third time out, I allowed myself to really focus on the project and try to make the best video I could. I’d already had my chance to see the world and I wanted to make something a little less selfish. The first two videos were really about me having the time of my life. The third video was about everyone.

How do you decide where to go?

For the most recent video, it was a mixture of indulging my own curiosities and visiting the places where I’d gotten the most email. We contacted all the people who’d written to me about the video and invited them to come out and dance in the new one.

How much planning do you do ahead of time? And what resources do you use? Friends, Lonely Planet, the Internet, etc?

I use all of those equally, but when it comes down to it, there isn’t a lot of planning in advance. In a lot of the world, if you try to schedule things to tightly, you just end up making it more difficult. It’s better to go with
the flow.

You’ve said that your favorite moment from “season 2” was dancing in Rwanda. How about on this third video?

That would have to be the Bollywood dance troupe in India. There was just something magical and serendipitous about that experience.

Though you’re known for dancing with people from all over the world, does it ever get lonely on your trips? (You’re traveling by yourself?)

I think I may be missing the loneliness gene. It’s not that I don’t enjoy being around people, but I also tend to do well on my own for long stretches of time that other people would find unbearable.

How do you explain your project to the locals? Is it pretty easy to convince them to take part?

I explain as best I can, but when I’m dancing with a bunch of school kids in, say, Madagascar, the language barrier can be very limiting, and also, they don’t really care. In those moments, it’s just about being silly and
having a good time, and the kids like to see themselves on the camera afterward. A lot of them have hardly ever used computers, so explaining what a YouTube video is would be difficult.

For a while I worried that I was exploiting the kids by using their images in the video, but at the same time, these are parts of the world that often go forgotten. And other places, like Rwanda, have become synonymous with suffering and horror. I decided it’s worthwhile to show those moments of joy and humanity, and it’s ultimately a good thing to remind people of the larger world we’re a part of.