Matt Harding has traveled to hundreds of cities on all seven continents to make his charming "Where the Hell is Matt?" videos—with over 33 million views online—in which he dances a jig with locals everywhere from the Arctic to the North Korean demilitarized zone.
It's a hazy afternoon in late July when Harding finally comes to Patterson Park's pagoda to dance with Baltimoreans for his fifth video.
Most of the eager locals in attendance had heard about the shoot from a "Where the Hell is Matt in Baltimore!" Facebook page, where Harding offered a cheeky suggestion for how to find him: "Look for the guy who looks like the guy in the dancing video. Just come on over, say hello, and ask if I am Matt. If I'm not Matt, I will let you know."
About 100 fans come, many wearing Orioles and Ravens gear, others in full belly-dancing regalia, and one dressed as Cthulhu, a many-tentacled character from H.P. Lovecraft novels. Harding hesitates before letting a fan dressed as Bender from the
TV show Futurama participate—he had asked fans not to come as copyrighted characters—but relents, perhaps because of the wayward robot's infectious enthusiasm.
Harding announces that on his new video, he is deviating from his standard jig and asks for suggestions. For five or 10 minutes each, the assembled offer enthusiastic takes on the twist, some bhangra steps, and, ultimately, the improvised "Baltimore Crab Dance," which involves skittering hands making like crustaceans.
After the fun is over, Harding thanks the crowd, adding that the sloped hill in front of the pagoda made a great location for the shoot, and they should be able to pick themselves out in the finished video, which he expects to come out before the end of the year. A modern celebrity, Harding stays around for 30 minutes, cheerfully shaking hands, signing autographs, and taking pictures doing his signature jig.
"I'm the farthest thing from a dancer in the world, but I really wanted to be here," gushes Gary Butterworth, a TV producer and avid traveler who made the trip from D.C. "I'm not prone to clichés, but he's an inspiration."
Patrons gradually fill the white folding chairs lined around the Patterson Park pool as a diverse range of performers limber up nearby.
Soon Mobtown Murder Mystery, perhaps the only noir-style play set largely in a public swimming pool, is under way. Members of the Fluid Movement performing troupe begin their action outside the pool, laying out the classic tale of a gumshoe and a lady in distress. But soon, pants and tops are ripped away to reveal vivid aquatic wear—everything from lime-green lycra leggings to sequined one-pieces—and bodies leap into the water.
Before long, our hero is blotted out by mobsters in water-proof black fedoras, and we are at the Boom-Boom Room, a nightclub run by red-fezzed Mr. Bygg and featuring a chorus line of ladies in sailor hats. Then, it's off to Indonesia—one lap length away—where men in coconut bras, apparently, run wild.
By the end, the eyes of several hundred deeply amused audience members are wet with tears and a few intrepid ones inquire about going for a dip. Bad news for them: Next show's at 7 p.m., just a few minutes away.