July 21, 2008 / 11:04 AM / 11 years ago

Web star famed for silly dance eyes new gig: charity

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Matt Harding has won cult celebrity status by filming himself dancing badly around the world to the amusement of millions of Internet viewers but now he wants to get serious — raising money for laptops for the poor.

A screenshot of YouTube.com shows a video of Matt Harding dancing in India, taken on July 21, 2008. REUTERS/www.youtube.comwatch?v=7WmMcqp670s

Harding, 31, began his unusual route to fame five years ago when he quit his job as a video game maker and set off to travel the world, with a traveling pal suggesting he do the same jig he used to do in the office and film himself in different spots.

“My sister asked me to put it up on the Internet so she could show some co-workers of hers. It turns out people who never met me got something from it,” Harding, an American, told Reuters in an interview in New York’s Central Park.

His edited clip which he posted in the fall of 2004 — at the same time registering a website, wherethehellismatt.com — became an Internet hit and came to the attention of executives at Cadbury’s Stride chewing gum who offered to fund future trips.

“When we first met Matt, we wanted to give him the opportunity to do what he wanted and go where he wanted. From our perspective, it’s really a very fun way to engage our consumers,” said Cadbury spokesperson Stephanie Minna.

Armed with a bigger budget, Harding danced around the world , through 39 countries, including the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica, producing a second video that has drawn nearly 11 million viewers to date on YouTube.

Last year, he embarked on his latest venture, getting local to boogey his geeky dance with him in 46 countries.

His latest and third video, which runs for four-and-a-half minutes has been watched by nearly 19 million people on YouTube.

“I get hundreds of emails from Brazil, hundreds of emails from Israel, Norway, Sweden, and so I’d go to these places, and ... say be at this place at this time, and we’re going to dance,” he said.

DANCING FOR FUN

The feel-good footage of him dancing in front of the Taj Mahal, outside Sydney’s Opera House, and even in zero gravity at Nellis Airspace in Nevada elicits infectious joy while its haunting New Age soundtrack was ranked eighth in Amazon.com’s most downloaded list this month.

But Harding said it was now time take off his dancing shoes and get serious.

He met United Nations officials this month and talked to the sponsor of his video, Stride, about raising money to buy and donate laptops to the poor in Rwanda where he danced with locals and plans to go to teach them himself.

“Laptops and access to the Internet can broaden horizons tremendously. I want to do it personally, so it won’t just be a care package,” said Harding who has also been approached with various other offers including writing a travel journal.

Media experts have pondered on why Harding has found such success but maybe the answer comes from his fans.

During his interview with Reuters, two fans came up and one, Mark Chong from the Virgin Islands, joined him in a dance.

“I don’t know where he got the inspiration, but you know, things like that, simple things like that in life just take off. And it really tells you, hey, you’ve got to go out there and do what you want to do,” said Chong.

The other, William Guyver, said Harding’s video inspired him to find a job where he could travel and meet people.

“It just gave me an idea of how different the world is and how many different things are out there to see,” he said.

(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

To read more about our entertainment news, visit our blog "Fan Fare" online at blogs.reuters.com/fanfare

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