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Originally published August 4, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 5, 2006 at 12:14 PM

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Northwest Traveler

Dancing around the world (and Web)

It's a 20-something's fantasy: Travel around the world, dance a lot and get paid to do it. Matt Harding of Seattle made that dream come...

Seattle Times travel staff

It's a 20-something's fantasy: Travel around the world, dance a lot and get paid to do it.

Matt Harding of Seattle made that dream come true. And he's turning into an Internet star, thanks to a short video he made of his recent trip that's become wildly popular on the Web.

Harding's 3 ½-minute video shows him dancing in dozens of countries. He dances at iconic sites, from China's Great Wall to the Machu Picchu ruins in Peru. He dances amid a crowd on a Tokyo street, beside bemused Buddhist monks in Laos, alone on a sand dune in Namibia. Altogether he danced and filmed his way through 39 countries the first six months of 2006.

As 29-year-old Harding is the first to admit, he's not a great dancer. But there's something so goofily endearing about his video, as he pumps his arms and legs and grins broadly, that it's become a huge hit since he put it online, for anyone to enjoy for free, six weeks ago.

Called "Dancing 2006," the video has been viewed more than 1.7 million times on Youtube, a fast-growing Web site where people can share their short videos (and where videos are ranked in popularity by viewing numbers).

Harding's dancing thing started as a lark a few years ago after he took off from his Seattle job as a video-game designer to travel.

"I've always done that dance, just flailing my limbs. I used to do it to annoy my co-workers, by hovering over their desks and dancing. Then I was traveling through Vietnam with a co-worker, and he said, 'You should do the stupid dance, and I'll film it.' So we did. And we just kept doing it."

He posted his first dancing traveler video on his Web site early last year. It became so popular, with word passing from blogger to blogger, that the Stride gum company offered to sponsor his travels this year. In turn, the company name appears briefly on his new video.

"The company was really hands-off," said Harding, who still travels in backpacker style. "They didn't dictate anything. They just let me do it."

Lots of people post their travel videos online; many are what-I-did-on-my-family-vacation and deservedly sink into the depths of the Web.

What makes Harding's video stand out is its simplicity and a sweet innocence, qualities often missing in life and online.

"I tried hard not to give any overt message, not to shove anything down people's throats," said Harding. "Some people just laugh and say it's funny; some people are moved."

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There's no talking in the video, no interviews or voiceovers. There's just Harding, who looks like all-American guy in shorts and hiking boots with an open, friendly face. Except he happens to be dancing in some of the world's most far-flung, exotic places. He even dances underwater, while snorkeling in Palau in the South Pacific, and on a precarious-looking cliff in Norway.

Harding dances in time with the video's soundtrack, a compelling techno-meets-African-vocals remix. He didn't have the music when he was filming; he just snapped his fingers to keep time.

The filming is equally low-tech. Harding used a basic video camera with no fancy shots or special effects. He asked traveling buddies to film him while he danced; when traveling solo, he got passers-by to hold the camera.

Now Harding is back at his Queen Anne home. While he figures out what to do next in his life, he's trolling through the thousands of e-mails and comments he's received.

And he can walk to the Fremont Troll, the whimsical sculpture under the north end of Seattle's Aurora Bridge that was the last shot in his video. His two young nieces joined him for that, flailing and smiling like him for the camera. The girls scampered off to climb behind the troll; Harding just kept on dancing.

Northwest Traveler is an occasional profile on travelers/ travel companies from the Northwest by Kristin Jackson: kjackson@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2271.

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About Northwest Traveler

Kristin Jackson writes about worldwide travel in Destinations. The column runs in Pacific Northwest Magazine on Sundays.
kjackson@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2271

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