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Dancer stumbles onto spirit of Web

I want to be Matt Harding.

The guy is an international Internet sensation who almost literally stumbled into his dream job. The makers of Stride gum paid him to travel the world and dance badly. Very badly. Oh, and to shoot video of his dancing and upload it for the world to see.

“It's ridiculous,” Harding says.

And you know what? On the surface it is sort of ridiculous. A 41/2-minute video of Matt dancing in Mumbai and Bhutan and Northern Ireland and in a desert in Australia and a flower field in the Netherlands. Dancing, dancing, dancing.

But keep watching. More than 11million already have. (Or at least the video had been viewed 11million times on YouTube by Friday afternoon.)

Eventually, Harding is joined by an exuberant crowd in San Francisco and then in Paris and in Chicago and the cheering mob in Madrid. And by the point in the video where Harding is surrounded by squealing, dancing kids in Madagascar – kids who are so beside themselves with joy that they appear ready to burst – he will have you.

He had me, anyway. Had me near tears. And he had me thinking: This is what the Internet does best. All the work at Netscape and Yahoo and Google. This is it: the promise of a tool that can bring us together.

You see how much joy there is in places – Mali, the West Bank, Zambia – where you might suspect that poverty or problems would crush joy.

And you realize that this is a phenomenon that never would have happened without the Internet. No movie studio, no wacky television producer – not even Mark Burnett – could come up with something like this.

Harding's latest video has been up on the Web (on YouTube and at www. where the hellismatt.com) since late June, and Harding has been running from interview to interview ever since. He spoke to me from Hollywood between a meeting with some Hollywood sorts pitching a movie idea and a “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” appearance.

On a lark in 2004, Harding and a buddy filmed him doing a kooky dance in Vietnam. Harding kept up the dancing and filming on a trip to Africa. He showed his family the video. A sister sent it to a friend. It ended up on blogs.

“It kind of started snowballing,” he says.

In 2005, the Stride people offered to sponsor a world trip so Harding, a video game designer by trade, could keep dancing and filming.

Harding knows his fame is likely to end as abruptly as it began. But before it does, he has a plan.

In the coming months, Harding plans to return to Rwanda. And this time he'll bring a shipment of laptops. His goal is to provide Rwandan children with the tools to help them learn.

An idea that is not so ridiculous after all.

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