It’s a common expression: “Dance like nobody’s watching.” Sometimes when the music is pumping, you just gotta go out there and do your thing, and not care what anybody has to say about it.
But sometimes it’s not so easy to go out and bust a move without care. Sometimes the bullies might shame you into stopping, even if you love it.
That was the case for one man, who, in early 2015, was just trying to dance—until some mean-spirited onlookers decided to mock him. Realizing he was being made fun of, the man ceased dancing.
“Spotted this specimen trying to dance the other week,” his bullies wrote in a 4Chan post.
“He stopped when he saw us laughing.”
But while they meant to make him a laughingstock, posting the photo online only made people side with the victim—and soon, a campaign began to find “the Dancing Man” and give him the support he deserved.
A journalist named Casandra Fairbanks posted this on Twitter, and soon there was a movement to #FindDancingMan:
Anyone know this man or who posted this? There's a huge group of ladies in LA who would like to do something special pic.twitter.com/DGbu3AXOrB
— Cassandra Fairbanks (@CassandraRules) March 5, 2015
“I thought it was so horrible,” Fairbanks told Today. “I mean, anybody with any sense was horrified by this. It is wrong.”
“My first thought was, ‘Wow, we’ve got to throw the best party ever!”’
— TheElleWord (@TheElleWord) March 6, 2015
The search went on, with many Twitter users spreading the word to help find the mystery dancer.
But soon, Fairbanks received a message from a man named Sean O’Brien, who included a photo of himself…
It was Dancing Man.
We are going to dance!!! pic.twitter.com/G7FxuiSsIh
— Cassandra Fairbanks (@CassandraRules) March 6, 2015
O’Brien was thrilled by their idea to throw a dance party, knowing it would be a great way to fight cyber-shaming and provide an inspiration for people to not be held back by their bullies.
Their dream started to become a reality as many celebrities voiced their support online:
— Pharrell Williams (@Pharrell) March 6, 2015
I want to dance with #dancingman and play at the party.
— Ellie Goulding (@elliegoulding) March 8, 2015
A GoFundMe page was set up to raise money for the event. It doubled its initial goal, bringing in over $40,000.
Not only that, people started offering their services for free. A stadium in Los Angeles offered to be the event’s venue, and since O’Brien lived in London, the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board offered the pay his travel expenses:
— LA Memorial Coliseum (@lacoliseum) March 7, 2015
— Discover Los Angeles (@discoverLA) March 8, 2015
Then finally, it was time to dance.
The event, hosted by the Dance Free Movement, went down May 23, 2015, and O’Brien was stunned by the turnout.
“The whole experience did not really sink in until the time came to enter the venue, when I was met by paparazzi and a queue of more than 200 people outside,” he recalled to Today.
Many celebrities turned out for the event. Legendary DJ Moby headlined the musical acts, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star Tatyana Ali hosted, anti-bullying activist Monica Lewinsky gave a speech, and Whitney Way Thore featured the event on the season finale of her show My Big Fat Fabulous Life.
But it was O’Brien who was the real star, who danced the night away, this time surrounded by love and support.
But the event wasn’t just for O’Brien—it was for bullying victims everywhere.
The event raised $30,000, which was donated to various anti-bullying organizations.
“Whilst there is still some support for the Dancing Man, I will use the profile to try to raise more funds for the charities,” he told Today.
“When this dies down, I will use plain old Sean O’Brien to do the same.”
In the end, that photo used to shame him ended up turning into a life-changing opportunity to make the world a better place.
“It’s completely surreal,” O’Brien told Today. “It’s something I never thought would happen to me. It’s completely amazing. There’s so many good people out there in the world, and what did happen to me, it touched a lot of nerves.”