Dancing Matt in Hawaii

Where the Hell is Matt?” It’s a question for the ages. Or at least those of an age to remember the earliest days of web video.

Who The Hell is Matt?

Six years ago, former video game designer Matt Harding decided to travel the world. A video clip of him dancing in Vietnam kicked off a series of clips of him dancing in other far-flung destinations, and an edited montage of his globe-spanning jig was soon being passed around the Internet. It actually predated the birth of YouTube in 2005, making his original outing one of the first examples of a “viral video.”

The video captured the attention of the tech press, and soon, the mainstream media as well. As his fame grew, he compiled even more clips to create a second version in 2006, landing his first sponsorship in the process. It’s been watched more than 16 million times so far.

Matt’s third video, posted in 2008, took 14 months to create and included traveling through 42 countries. It’s also his biggest hit yet, garnering 34 million views and counting.

His success has kept him quite busy. He published a book about his adventures, and is a highly sought after speaker. He’s continued to travel and dance and post videos to YouTube, last year touring South Africa to celebrate the World Cup.

Matt’s videos have been cited endlessly by teachers, scientists, sociologists, even government leaders as proof that music and dance and joy are universal human experiences.

But in case some remote corner of the world has still missed out his mission, he’s making yet another global dance video. And Hawaii was one of his stops.

Aloha, Matt!

Last month, I blogged about Maui entrepreneur Erik Blair, whose T-shirt themed adventure was inspired in part by Matt. And it was Erik who let me know that Matt was coming to Honolulu… stopping on the island for a mere 24 hours en route to the South Pacific. He chose Waimea Bay on the North Shore as his backdrop.

“I know there are a million beautiful spots in Hawaii on all the islands,” Matt wrote. “I chose Oahu because it’s where I’ve received the most email and I want to be able to dance with as many of you as possible.”

And while Matt has embraced his tagline, “Dancing Badly Around the World,” he decided to mix it up a little this time.

“In this new video, I’m actually learning how to dance, so I’ll be showing some easy moves and asking people to follow along,” he wrote. “But don’t worry, I’m still not very good at dancing so you don’t have to be perfect either. Just remember to smile and have fun.”

After an especially exhausting week at work, a trip to the beach sounded spectacular to me. I loaded my family into the van, and headed out.

Although the kids were looking forward to frolicking in the ocean, high surf conditions prompted lifeguards to post signs forbid all but the most experienced swimmers and surfers from the water. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day, and we relaxed and played on the sand while huge waves crashed on shore.

As the appointed time drew near, people began to gather, and more than a few people were erroneously identified as Matt, which definitely helped break the ice among his fans. When Matt finally did arrive, there were hugs and leis and laughs. But having staged public group dances a few times before, Matt was also incredibly efficient in getting everyone up to speed and getting the video shoot set up.

In all, more than 50 people of all ages formed a crowd of complete strangers that gleefully and unabashedly danced in varied and silly ways until the sun went down, flailing and cheering and splashing in the surf.

And when the official video shoot was done, Matt and his small team hung around to make sure every single fan had a few moments to meet him, dance with him, and take pictures with him. He signed autographs, signed copies of his book, and signed copies of official “I Danced with Matt” T-shirts, unveiled in the first time here in Honolulu. The last photos taken with Matt were captured in the parking lot, long after the sun had set.

Video In, Video Out

Alas, Matt was spending just one day in Hawaii. The next stop on this latest “dancing badly” tour is the Solomon Islands, a location with a special meaning to Matt and his fans.

His first video was set to “Sweet Lullaby,” a track by “Deep Forest.” The song, which was everywhere during the early 1990s, was based on “Rorogwela,” a Baegu lullaby from the Solomon Islands.

Matt says the final video should be online by late 2011. He notes that his Hawaii shoot might not make the final cut, but to be sure, the memories of dancing with him at Waimea Bay were more than worth the trip.

If you’ve not seen the latest “Where the Hell is Matt?” video, be sure to watch it now. Then, for a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into just one of those clips, check out my “Where the Hell is Matt in Hawaii” video, embedded above from YouTube, and also available in crisper high def on Vimeo.

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