There are no weekend box-office charts for online videos. But if there were, near or at the very top of the list right now might well be a four-and-a-half-minute video called Dancing, which more than four million people have viewed on Youtube.com, and perhaps another million on other sites, in just over two weeks since it appeared. It’s the online equivalent of a platinum hit, seeping from one computer to the next like a virus.
The right moves: Harding travelled to 69 locations.
The title is not misleading. Dancing shows a guy dancing: a big, doughty-looking fellow in shorts and hiking boots performing an arm-swinging, knee-pumping step that could charitably be called goofy. It’s the kind of semi-ironic dance that boys do by themselves at junior high mixers when they’re too embarrassed to partner with girls.
The dancer is Matt Harding, the 31-year-old creator of the video, and with some New Agey-sounding music playing in the background, he turns up grinning and bouncing in 69 different locations, including India, Kuwait, Bhutan, Tonga, Timbuktu and the Nellis Airspace in Nevada, where he performs the dance in zero gravity.
He started doing it at work years ago, while living in Brisbane, Australia. “I’d dance at lunchtime or during an awkward pause or just to annoy people,” Harding says. “It was sort of a nervous tic.”
Now, he’s on the streets in Mumbai one minute, balanced on the Giant’s Causeway rock formation in Northern Ireland the next, in a tulip field in the Netherlands, or in front of a geyser in Iceland later. Sometimes, he dances alone. On a Christmas Island beach, he has an audience of crabs.
But more often — and this accounts for much of the video’s appeal — he’s in the company of others: South African street children in Soweto, bushmen in New Guinea, Bollywood-style dancers in India, some oddly costumed waitresses in Tokyo, free-spirited crowds in Paris, Madrid or rainy Montreal, all copying or trying to copy his flailing chicken-step. Harding even dances for a lone military policeman (who remains unmoved) in the Korean demilitarized zone.
In many ways, Dancing is an almost perfect piece of Internet art: It’s short, pleasingly weird and so minimal in its content that it’s open to a multitude of interpretations. It could be a commercial for one-world feel-goodism. It could be an allegory of American foreign policy, a bumptious foreigner turning up all over the world and answering only to his own inner music. Or, it could be about nothing at all — just a guy dancing.
However you interpret it, you can’t watch Dancing without feeling a little happier. The music (by Gary Schyman, a friend of Harding’s), set to a poem by Rabindranath Tagore and sung in Bengali by Palbasha Siddique, a 17-year-old native of Bangladesh now living in Minneapolis, is both catchy and haunting. The backgrounds are also quite beautiful. And, there is something sweetly touching and uplifting about the spectacle of all these different nationalities, people of almost every age and colour, dancing along with an uninhibited doofus.
Children, not surprisingly, turn out to be the best at picking up Harding’s infectious vibe. On the other hand, there’s frequently a grown-up — especially one in the front row of a crowd — who tends to ham it up and make a fool of himself.
©2008/The New York Times
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