KARACHI: When a group of fans found the gate to Jehangir Kothari Parade shut, they thought Matt was going to be a no-show. But then they saw the American frantically waving from the other side and realised that the show would go on.
Thirty-three year old Matt Harding became famous via YouTube for his crazy dancing videos from across the world. He has already been to 80 cities and after receiving several requests to come to Karachi, he decided to include it in a music video of five-second clips from several cities.
“I came to Karachi after receiving several emails from people inviting me here,” Matt told The Express Tribune on Wednesday. Even though he was unsure of the number of people who would turn up, estimating somewhere between five and 50, he was more than happy to arrange into a pyramid the 18 people who managed to make it around the police.
Matt, who was staying at the Marriott, arrived at the chosen venue of Jehangir Kothari Parade in Clifton towards 6 pm. The Clifton police, who were detailed for security, created some confusion by telling waiting fans that the dancing American had called it off. They then tried to strongarm Matt into giving up.
Matt said he was greeted at the park entrance by two police officers who told him the event was cancelled, he was not welcome, and should go home immediately without speaking to anyone. “I was stunned,” he told The Express Tribune.
“The policeman told me that I could play it nasty or I could quietly go back to my hotel. I asked him if I could at least ask the people if they wanted to dance but he was not letting me.”
A few phonecalls to Clifton TPO Tariq Dharejo managed to settle the matter and the meddling officer, who refused to reveal his name to members of The Express Tribune, left.
“Within a few seconds [of the phonecall] the police were smiling and shaking my hand and welcoming me to do whatever I wanted,” he said. “We danced with about 25 people (and 30 police looking on) and it really could not have gone better once the initial problems were sorted out.”
Matt was glad to take advantage of the terrain. “I don’t like dancing on level ground since you cannot see people at the back,” he said, appreciating the giant steps in the park.
Some of the participants were not completely sure of dancing in front of the camera. “At first it was so uncomfortable but then you just got a feel for it and it worked out,” said 13-year-old Sohrab. He is visiting from Italy and heard about Matt from his cousin.
Shahryar, 11, was “extremely embarrassed” but still managed to show Matt his original moves when the recording was over.
Ali Reza, who works as a radio jockey, invited all his friends on Facebook. “Matt is on my cousin’s mailing list so he informed us through an email that he was coming to Karachi,” Reza explained. “I had a lot of fun and it was crazy,” he exclaimed after 30-minutes of dancing to one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
His friend, Nadir Zia, was equally excited. “Everyone should come here! [Karachi], it’s a great city,” he said, hoping that Matt would return to shoot another video.
Shahryar Khan, a college student, found out about Dancing Matt through this newspaper. “I think the event was not publicised as much as it should have,” he felt.
Sanam (not her real name) decided to help by calling out time for Matt and the group rather than go in front of the camera “to make a fool of herself”.”It’s nice that he came to Pakistan because we hardly get such interesting visitors,” she said. “It is amazing that ordinary people can become so famous through the internet now.”
Matt’s 30-minute video will include small clips of him dancing with people from all over the world. He collected the email addresses and pictures of all the participants at the end of the evening, promising to inform them when the video is ready.
Matt’s visit was a significant happening. Karachi, a city of 20 million people, has been off limits to foreigners out of security fears since 2001. Since the begining of this year, over 250 people have lost their lives in drive-by shootings and suspect members of the Taliban are regularly arrested from its outskirts by the law-enforcement agencies. While the city has a vibrant nightlife, music, cafe, theatre and fashion scene, it tends to only be viewed as one of the most dangerous cities in the world by those living outside it.
Matt’s next stop is Kabul, Afghanistan, where he will join a children’s circus and shoot some clips for his video.
Who the hell is Matt?
Matt is a 33-year-old self-professed ‘deadbeat’ from Connecticut who used to think that all he ever wanted to do in life was make and play videogames. In February 2003, he quit his job in Brisbane, Australia and used the money he’d saved to wander around Asia until it ran out. A few months into his trip, a travel buddy gave Matt an idea. They were standing around taking pictures in Hanoi, when his friend suggested Matt do a little dance. A couple of years later, someone found the video online and passed it to someone else, who passed it to someone else, and so on.
The response to the first video brought Matt to the attention of a chewing gum company.
They asked Matt if he’d be interested in taking another trip around the world to make a new video. In 2006, Matt took a six-month trip through 39 countries on all seven continents. The second video made him even more famous. His email inbox was overflowing with messages from people all over the planet. He asked the company to help him travel around the world and invite people to dance with him. The rest, as they say, is history.
Additional reporting by Meiryum Ali
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2010.
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