Where’s Matt? Dancing with Steichen and Mead

A jolt of joy.

Don’t you think we all need a bit of it right now? I know I’ve been feeling the need  lately for an extra-tall shot of unadulterated optimism.  Frankly, watching the twisted spectacle of one of our political parties (c’mon, we all know who I’m talking about) warmly—and cynically—wrapping itself in the flag while ripping apart the fabric of our democratic traditions (voter fraud, who are they kidding?) has left me feeling, well, a bit low.

The medicine I needed, however, came just in time.  It came in the guise of an ordinary guy pulling together something extraordinary.  That would be Matt Harding, a self-professed “thirty-five-year-old deadbeat from Westport, Connecticut” who has stitched together an internet sensation that deserves to be watched by anyone craving their own fix of optimism. The elixir is called, “Where the Hell Is Matt, 2012?”

In this, his fourth and most accomplished video, Matt gleefully dances his way across four hemispheres—end even below one of them—with ordinary people hailing from more than thirty-eight countries as his dance partners.  Performing sometimes in his own ad hoc style but more often mimicking the traditional dance movements of the peoples of the far-flung places he’s visiting, Matt gives us some much-needed belly laughs as he dons the native dress of the countries he’s dropped into. In quite a few segments, Matt cavorts with the gleeful cooperation of a crowd of locals in his own infectiously exuberant style of mob choreography.

Just take a look at Matt dancing plain silly in Saudi Arabia with a group of men decked out in their stiff white thawbs and keffiyehs. Or Matt boogying on a South African stone beach with one very hip compatriot. Or choreographing signalmen on board an American naval destroyer.  I challenge anyone to try to hold back a smile as you watch Matt dancing to the embarrassed giggles of astonished guests at a Korean wedding party.  And who among us is so insensitive as to not feel a jolt of recognition straight to the solar plexus when you see Matt in a chorus line with young Syrian women in full hip-hop mode and then suddenly realizing that the women’s faces have been obscured to protect their identities?

Can’t you just imagine the applause Matt would garner from two other luminaries of humanitarian impulse who strolled similar ground during their own long and fruitful careers? I’m certain photographer and curator Edward Steichen and anthropologist Margaret Mead wouldn’t mind joining hands and doing a nifty two-step with Matt in one of his videos. Steichen and Mead surely would recognize a kindred spirit.

Margaret Mead in native Samoan dress

For his part, Steichen, in his groundbreaking exhibition and book, The Family of Man (1955), gathered together images that captured the common threads of human experience.  Echoing a sentiment that I imagine Matt would share, Steichen said of his exhibition that he intended it as a “mirror of the essential oneness of mankind.”

And as for Margaret, wouldn’t she be delighted to get an update from Matt on today’s adolescent Samoans whose grandparents or great-grandparents she might have interviewed for her blockbuster book Coming of Age in Samoa (1928)? I’m sure she would listen intently to Matt’s observations about the diversity of human gifts he’s allowed us to witness through his remarkable digital travel log.

Right now, though, I’m hoping Matt is out there trekking from plane to train to bus to camel or donkey while working on video number five and that he’s planning to treat us to another installment of his quirky brand of down-home diplomacy and light-footed humanitarianism. I also hope he’ll catch this post somewhere during his travels, because Matt should have the opportunity to read composer John Philip Souza’s love note to music, movement, and optimism that heartily captures how Matt himself has shown us a way to shrug off pessimism, feel the joy, and give ourselves permission to join the dance.

Dance as though no one is watching.

Love as though you’ve never been hurt.

Sing as though no one can hear you.

Live as though heaven is on earth.