Dispatch, Coney Island: Dancing on the boards

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World traveler and Internet video star Matt Harding was dancing on the Coney Island boardwalk with USTOA members, in a promotional effort to support tour operators. Emma Weissmann was there on Thursday to report ... and participate. 

“It’s like this ... with the feet, elbows to the side, a big goofy smile, and go!”

I hopped up and down on the Coney Island boardwalk, raised my elbows from side to side, and directed a toothy smile at the video camera. 

Although I had watched Matt Harding perfect this signature move on his “Where the Hell is Matt?” YouTube videos more times than I could count, I couldn’t help but feel like I wasn’t quite getting it down. Was my rhythm in sync with Harding, who danced alongside me? Was my form the same? My smile too big? Not big enough?

At Matt’s countdown of “3,2,1,” I finished the dance by planting my feet and waving my “jazz hands.” With that finale, all my nervousness dissolved. I had a huge smile on my face, laughing as I wiggled my fingers above my head.

I had met Harding earlier that morning as he prepared to dance with members of the U.S. Tour Operators Association in a promotional effort to support tour operators. I was star-struck.

I had seen Harding’s dance performed before, many times, and by thousands of different people. When I first saw his most popular “Where the Hell is Matt?” video, made in 2008, I couldn’t stop watching it. He would hop up and down, doing the same goofy “elbows-up” move, but in five-second chunks and in many countries.

Matt danced in many places I had been (The Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland; Munich; Paris), but many that I hadn’t (Mumbai, Seoul, Madrid). While Matt dances alone for the first 50 seconds of the video, locals soon begin to join in, dancing alongside him.

Sometimes, I would lose track of Harding as I scanned the screen, looking for him through the throng of people. Even today, despite the 90 degree heat, he wore a huge grin, eager to teach his dance to anyone.

“It’s not about me,” Harding said. “I’m Waldo. It’s all about the smiles, the looks on people’s faces.”

And now, thinking back, the sense of joy I felt when watching Harding’s videos are what I’ve always loved about the entire “Where the Hell is Matt?” franchise. The videos carried with them an unspoiled happiness that connects different people from all corners of the world.

“I’m not a dancer,” Harding said. “I enjoy it, though. Dancing has always opened doors for me. New experiences, interactions with people. Dance is a way of breaking down barriers.”
 

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