Amazing Nomads: Matt Harding – The Dancing Man

Matt Harding became an internet sensation after a friend recorded his unique "stupid dance" on the streets of Hanoi. The decision earned him a sponsorship to travel the world connecting with locals.


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Amazing Nomad: Matt Harding

In this episode, we feature an Amazing Nomad and this time someone a little different. American Matthew Harding became an internet sensation after videos of him dancing in front of landmarks and street scenes in 39 countries, went viral. 

What's in this Episode

00:00 Language warning

00:32 Why does something go viral?

01:20 How it all started

03:20 So what happened after that first video?

06:10 Matt's friend's reaction 09:26 Dacing with communities

13:24 "Do all the things that you'll regret not doing later. 'Cause there's a lot that you can't, there's a lot you're going to miss out on in life if you're wandering the whole time." - Matt Harding

16:58 Phil's daughter

17:44 The latest dance craze

18:45 Next week

Who is in the Episode

Matthew Harding became an American internet sensation after videos showing him dancing went viral. Matt was picked up by a sponsor and was paid to dance across seven continents, discovering along the way that people are a whole lot more interesting than landmarks and monuments.

Matt believes travel is important. “It helps us learn what we’re capable of, that the path laid in front of us isn’t the only one we can choose, and that we don’t need to be so afraid of each other all the time.”




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About World Nomads & the Podcast

Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides.

World Nomads is a fast-growing online travel company that provides inspiration, advice, safety tips and specialized travel insurance for independent, volunteer and student travelers traveling and studying most anywhere in the world. Our online global travel insurance covers travelers from more than 135 countries and allows you to buy and claim online, 24/7, even while already traveling.

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Speaker 1:  The World Nomads Podcast bonus episode. Hear amazing nomads sharing their knowledge, stories and experience of world travel.

Speaker 2:  Yes, another episode featuring an amazing nomad, and this time it's something a little bit different. We're meeting Matthew Hardy. He's an American internet sensation known as Dancing Matt. He's a sensation because his videos have gone viral showing him dancing.

Speaker 3:  They say the basic elements of a successful online video, those that go viral, include the fundamental principles of human interaction, emotion and surprise as an example. For Matt, his videos are also about connection, feeling more connected to other people, to the world and to communities.

Speaker 2:  Yeah, he's now a father of two young children, but let's check in and look back at how Matt's dancing videos ultimately secured a sponsor who paid him to travel the world. Thanks for being on the podcast, Matt.

Matt:  Thank you.

Speaker 3:  Tell us, did you get into this?

Matt:  I don't know. I really backed into it I'd say. I was neither an expert at dancing or traveling, but I enjoyed doing both. In 2003, I was actually, I was living in Brisbane at the time, Australia, and I left my job there and had really gotten the bug for travel from my coworkers in Brisbane. And it's more of a, it's, you know, the gap year and all that, which is not something that I'd grown up with in the States. I learned about just kind of going somewhere without really having a plan and working your way through, not having everything booked and lined up in advance, but just kind of wandering. And that really excited me. And so I started doing that a bit, and when I left my job, I kind of carved out six months and said, if I don't do this now, I'm never going to do it.

Matt:  And I started traveling and then one of the guys who I worked with in Vietnam, he said, why don't you go stand over there on the curb and do that stupid dance you do at work? Which was just a thing that I would do when it was time to go to lunch. Usually I was the first one eager to get up and go to lunch and I would kind of hover over people's desks and do this jig until they couldn't work anymore, and then they'd get up and come with me. And so I just did that dance and decided, oh, this is a pretty nice way of taking a sort of a memento of each place that I have gone to on this trip.

Matt:  And this was in the early, early days before YouTube, before digital cameras were really prevalent. Mobile phones didn't have cameras yet. So it was right at the beginning of it being possible to do something like that. And I just got to be the person who did it first and it became known and when the video got seen, I found it on YouTube years later and people had this really strong reaction to it. There was something in it that I didn't know I was putting into it, that triggered this feeling of wanderlust and freedom. And so I got to keep going and making more of them.

Speaker 2:  Just to explain. So you mate got you to do the dance on the corner, filmed it, put it up on YouTube, and then someone that became your sponsor sent you around the world to do this dance.

Matt:  Right. So I made that first video and then found it on YouTube. And when I found it, it had 600 some thousand views. And I wanted to crawl under my bed and hide because I thought this was, you know, I was really embarrassed. Everybody's watching me dance like an idiot. And then as it turned out, that wasn't the response at all. And people were passing it around. And then yeah, the sponsors came along and it was right at the beginning of the term viral video had just become a thing that people were talking about it. Everybody wanted one, but nobody knew how to make one yet.

Matt:  So they said, hey, this Cadbury at the time said, hey, we're making this new chewing gum called Stride Gum. We want a viral video for it. Would you travel around the world and make one? And I said, wait, are you going to pay for it? And they said yes. And I said, then sure. And so I spent a good chunk of the next year wandering all over the planet, just going everywhere. that was on my list of places I always wanted to go and never thought I'd get to. And all I had to do when I got there was dance for 10 seconds and then I could go on to the next place.

Speaker 2:  Not like Fred Astaire either. It's a kind of weird running man snap thing, isn't it?

Speaker 3:  We'll put a copy of the video on the show notes, but just for people listening right now, can you describe your lunchtime jig?

Matt:  Oh jeez. Okay. Well it's just, you know, okay. You know how you ask a two year old if they can dance and they say, yeah, of course. Because every two year old knows how to dance and then you see what they do. I pretty much never stopped doing that. It's kind of jump up and down and the swing my arms and swing my legs. And for some reason I snap my fingers. It's arrhythmic. It doesn't make any sense. It's just what I do. And I think everybody's sort of got a thing that their body naturally does if they just don't worry about it and let it happen. And so I just did that.

Speaker 3:  And the essence of it is, it's so freaking annoying. It makes your work mates want to go to lunch with you.

Matt:  It's very difficult to finish what you're working on when I'm doing that dance.

Speaker 2:  So these workmates, let's go back to Brizzy in Australia, Brisbane in Australia. Did they get wind that you were working for Stride Gum or Stride Gum had picked you up on the basis of this annoying dance and you were subsequently going to 39 countries in seven continents. What was the reaction?

Matt:  I don't know if I can say it. I'm tempted to try an accent and I should not do that.

Speaker 3:  Oh No, please do.

Speaker 2:  Please.

Speaker 3:  Go on.

Matt:  Oh, for fucks sake.

Speaker 2:  That's exactly what we said.

Speaker 3:  So where did you go? You went to 39 countries. Which ones did you put on your list?

Speaker 2:  Okay, that one. That was the 2006 one, so boy, Galapagos Islands. We went to Easter island, Antarctica. It's hard to separate them because there were, now there were like three big videos at this point. We went to the Federated States of Micronesia, which is a country larger than the United States that takes up a large chunk of the Pacific Ocean. It's a bunch of tiny little islands. That was amazing. Got to do some great scuba diving there.

Speaker 2:  Let's see. Myanmar, Mongolia, Laos. I mean it's a laundry of, Egypt, Turkey, South Africa. Namibia was amazing and I didn't get a good clip I could use in Namibia. It was always hard because I had about three days in each country and I had to get something, I had to get six seconds somewhere really, really interesting and distinct. And I was going so fast and I was actually all by myself for a good chunk of it. I didn't always manage to get a usable clip in each country.

Speaker 3:  Hang on. But they kept sending you on to the next one. How do you get that gig?

Matt:  The sponsor, they didn't know where I was and they didn't particularly care. I tried saying, okay, I'm going to be here and then here. And they were just like, look, we don't care. Just go do it. Just have it done on this day.

Speaker 2:  How did they use the videos? Stride Gum, how did they use them?

Matt:  They didn't really, they had me upload it to my YouTube page and I put the Stride logo at the end of it. I said, this video was made possible by Stride. That was it. So you don't generally watch the credits of YouTube videos. This was something that people were just figuring out. So most people, probably 99% of people watched the video and say, oh, that was interesting. I have no idea. Is he rich? Did his stock IPO and it was down below on the YouTube comments where people would always explain, oh no, Stride paid for it, Stride paid for it. So it was kind of like it was stealthily inserted that it was sponsored and it wasn't kind of plastered all over it, which was nice. I think that actually helped.

Speaker 2:  Now when you were there in the Galapagos, you said you went diving or you said you were somewhere and went diving. Was this again all covered by this sponsor?

Matt:  Well, they just gave me a budget. They just said here and I went to the places that I wanted to go and spent what I had to spend to do it. So yeah, and you know when you're going fast and it's just you and I brought my girlfriend at the time and so it didn't cost a whole lot.

Speaker 2:  That's a great story. You also did Rwanda and Petra and then you would put a call out, explain that, on social media for people to come and do it with you.

Matt:  That's right. That was step two. So the first video I put out, it was just me dancing by myself. And as I was doing it day after day, you know, today I'm in Egypt dancing, next day I'm in Singapore, next day I'm in Vietnam or wherever. It got a little bit boring. The traveling was great, but the dancing clips, I realized this is not that interesting. But it was in Rwanda that I danced with a bunch of kids 'cause there wasn't really a, you know, there's no Taj Mahal in Rwanda, there's no Great Wall of Rwanda. There's just a lot of people. And so I danced with some kids, and that ended up being my favorite clip in the video and the best time that I had on that trip.

Matt:  So I came home thinking that's what I should have done. I had this kind of idea that I was going to go to the all the postcard images around the world. But what's a whole lot more interesting is seeing people in those places. And so I said to Stride, "Thank you for sending me all over the world for a year. I had a wonderful time, but I did it wrong and you need to send me around again, and I'm going to get people to dance with me." And they said sure.

Matt:  So that led to the 2008 video where I, and after I put the video up, every single response was the same thing. It was, you forgot to dance where I live. You didn't dance in South Korea, you didn't dance in Sweden, you didn't dance in Brazil. So I just kept all those emails and I wrote back to them and I said, okay, I'm coming to Brazil. Here's where I'll be, come out and dance. And so everywhere I went there'd be thousands of people coming out to dance. And that was a lot more fun.

Speaker 2:  They laugh at you dance?

Matt:  Did they laugh at my dance. They couldn't see my dance. It was just a big, everybody was doing their own dance and I was just kind of in the crowd. So it was a lot easier 'cause I actually would get self conscious doing it. I'm not someone who can go out and do something embarrassing in front of a lot of people and not feel nervous about it. And so now I had these big crowds and it didn't feel as difficult. we were all acting like fools. So it was fun and easy. And so I finally figured out what I should be doing, what I should have been doing all along once I started making the video that way.

Speaker 3:  Do you recall how many views the YouTube videos have had, all of them in total?

Matt:  Over a hundred million.

Speaker 3:  And you don't like making an idiot of yourself in front of people. Wow.

Speaker 2:  Matt. What a story. So this woman, this girlfriend you took with you was at the time, you've obviously got a new one now. She missed out big time.

Matt:  No, I worded that poorly. She's upstairs giving the kid a bath.

Speaker 3:  Ah, awesome.

Speaker 2:  So she was your girlfriend at the time and became your wife?

Matt:  [inaudible 00:11:57] we never got married. So I guess technically she's still my girlfriend. It's just we have a house and a family.

Speaker 2:  Is that boring in comparison to the life that you were leading, you know.

Speaker 3:  Come on, you're a mother. You know how intriguing.

Speaker 2:  Of course, it must be very depressing, Matt.

Matt:  I don't know how to answer that without sounding cliche. No, it's not.

Speaker 3:  Well, we did in our little preamble moment where we're chatting to you. I did say there's such a [inaudible 00:12:24], aren't they?

Matt:  No. You know, I kind of feel like what I'm really, really grateful for, again, I'm going to try really hard not to sound corny, but if I hadn't gotten to go and do all that, then it would nag me all the time when I was stuck at home doing mundane things that you have to do when you're a parent. I would be thinking, I never got to do all these things. But I got to do enough that I got to the point where it's like, all right, I'm done doing this. I've wandered the planet for years. I'm ready to stop. So it's great, no regrets. And I'm super grateful for that.

Speaker 2:  That's one of the questions that we ask a lot of the couples that are traveling and don't have children or nor do they have a house. At some time will you feel like settling down and every answer is always yes, of course we will. What would you message be to those people?

Matt:  The settle down. I would say that they're doing it right. I mean it really worked for me. Do all the things that you'll regret not doing later. 'Cause there's a lot that you can't, there's a lot you're going to miss out on in life if you're wandering the whole time. You got to sort of stay put and build a foundation and I think that they're doing it in the right order, if they kind of go through their list and do everything and say, all right, I did that, now what's next? And then there'll be time for it again. And I'm getting to the point now where they're able to travel now finally. It's really easy. I've gone to Iceland with them. We went to London last year, we're planning a trip to Singapore and they're great travelers.

Matt:  So you just got to go through a couple of difficult years with just changing diapers all the time and then you can get back to it.

Speaker 3:  Are they old enough to have seen the videos? Have they seen Dad's funny dance?

Matt:  The videos are, what they became is toenail clipping videos. So when you have little kids you got to clip their fingers and their toes all the time. Very difficult to get them to sit still. And for some reason those videos, I recommend this to any parent, has a magical power to get kids to sit still while you clip their nails. So that's how they know.

Speaker 2:  It just sounds like a bizarre story, but it's also very true.

Matt:  Yeah.

Speaker 2:  You could think about doing a family dance.

Speaker 3:  That's right.

Matt:  It has occurred to me. I have one. So you know the thought occurred me when before they were born. And then you have them and then they are who they are, and you don't get to say come on, we're doing this. One of them is pretty shy and then the other one I think would be up for it. So I haven't figured out to navigate that yet.

Speaker 3:  Just don't tell them about the hundred million views.

Matt:  Well yeah there's that, that's the other thing of like man, no kids ready for that. I was really glad that that whole experience, the blowing up on YouTube and then it's hot for a day and then it's over. That whole emotional roller coaster happened when I was in my 30s and I was prepared to deal with it. But I met a bunch of these other YouTube stars over the years 'cause there is a secret underground network of us, and a lot of them had much harder times of it than I did. It was something, it was a little more controlled and planned in my case. Sometimes it's just like, you know, you film your kid in the backseat of your car and he's just been to the dentist and he's drugged and that whole weird thing happens, and then you're known for that forever and it can be painful and destructive, so I wouldn't want to sign my kids on for that.

Speaker 3:  I've actually got a little of the home video of my daughter when she was about five doing, she was using the photo booth. She was using photo booth, and she was singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight, ah-ooo, and over and over and over. And then just absolutely wetting herself laughing at herself as well. And my son, who's slightly older than her, he's going oh, we should put that, that'll go viral, and going yes, it will. That's why we're not putting it on.

Speaker 2:  It's a big call. I get that.

Speaker 3:  Mind you, if I do release the video, if it gets me to travel the world with her singing The Lion Sleeps, you know, ah-ooo, everywhere around the world, I'll do it.

Speaker 2:  Exactly.

Speaker 3:  Fantastic to talk to you. I love the story.

Matt:  Thanks so much guys.

Speaker 2:  Okay, we don't have to show it, but can we at least just take a little listen to your daughter from that video.

Speaker 3:  Okay, here you go.

Speaker 5:  And I'm going to sing a song for you. The lion sleeps tonight. Ah-ooh. The lion sleeps tonight. Ah-ooh.

Speaker 2:  Very cute. Very, very cute.

Speaker 3:  It goes on for six and a half minutes, exactly like that.

Speaker 2:  So it was allowed to go on for six and a half minutes.

Speaker 3:  No, we were trying to shut it down, I promise you.

Speaker 2:  Well, by the way, when asked about other dances that have gone viral, Matt says, all Fortnite dancers are banned from the house, flossing and dabbing are forbidden. The kids can do it at school, but they can't bring it home. But I didn't ask about the latest craze, the triangle dance.

Speaker 3:  So the triangle, that's three people stand in a triangle with their hands on each other's shoulders and then you jump forward, sidestep left, sidestep right, jump forward again in unison. So there's always somebody jumping forward.

Speaker 2:  Yeah.

Speaker 3:  Okay. We had a go at it here at World Nomads headquarters in Sydney, as our dads did our office in Cork. I think they've got an advantage that, you know, there's a bit of Irish dancing that may have helped there.

Speaker 2:  Exactly.

Speaker 3:  We'll put that and Matt's efforts in the show notes. Have a look.

Speaker 2:  Now if you're an amazing or if you know, actually nominate yourself. We've had someone nominate themselves as an amazing, nomad.

Speaker 3:  Don't hold back. It's okay.

Speaker 2:  Exactly. Or if you know an amazing nomad who demonstrates discovery, transformation, love feel, or like Matt connection email podcast at

Speaker 3:  You can get the World Nomads podcast on iTunes or download the Google podcast app. Look, can you please subscribe for us and do some rating as well. And most importantly, word of mouth, please share and tell your friends about us. Next week, we take you to Bhutan.

Speaker 1:  Amazing nomads. Be inspired.


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