The following article was originally published on OpenFile.ca
He says he does it because he’s a born-again Christian who is moved by the gospel music he listens to on his MP3 player. And because he brings smiles to the faces of those he passes.
Jed “The Dancing Guy” Lifeson is a viral sensation, the subject of a Facebook page titled, “The guy that walks up main street dancing to his mp3,” where he’s accumulated more than 7100 fans. Hamiltonians will stop him on the street to take pictures, to ask for advice on their dance moves. And they talk about him online.
His story begins in 1955 in Sabac,Yugoslavia, now Serbia. His family came to Canada in 1968 and settled in Toronto where he learned to speak English. He completed high school, worked a variety of jobs over the years, married, had two children, and took care of his mother.
Lifeson says he was never much of a dancer and never saw himself become the “Dancing Guy,” so well known to Hamiltonians. As a matter of fact, he never even saw himself living in Hamilton.
His dancing began, he explains, after a “miracle.”
In 2003, when they were living in an apartment in downtown Toronto, Lifeson arrived home one day to find his mother in a diabetic coma.
“I walked in and saw a dead person,” he recalls. “I gave up on seeing her again. I was hoping, praying that she would come back to life.”
The doctors did not expect her to survive but, after 17 long days, Lifeson received the phone call he’d longed to hear: his mother was awake.
To celebrate, he danced. And he didn’t stop that day. For the next two weeks, Lifeson says he danced everywhere. And then, just as suddenly as he started, one day he stopped.
People asked him if everything was all right. He just stopped dancing, that’s all, he told them. But, after being asked a few more times, Lifeson started dancing again to stop the questions.
In 2008, he arrived in Hamilton, following a job offer. But ultimately, the recession hit and Lifeson soon found himself unemployed. He travelled the city in search of work, dancing along the way.
He hasn’t found work yet, and survives with Ontario Works to pay the rent. He eats at the Good Shepherd Centre, The Salvation Army, and other local charities.
It was at a community Christmas dinner in 2009 when Lifeson met its host, Moe Masoudi, Founder and CEO of BIZCLIP studios. It was the beginning of a friendship that Lifeson describes as being one of his most important.
“He just wants to give back,” says Masoudi. “He feels that people have given him so much.”
People like Angel Igneski, owner of Caryl Baker Visage in Jackson Square, who bought Lifeson a new MP3 player when his old one broke. His carefree spirit makes her day, she explains.
People like the stranger who created the Facebook group in his honour. “I didn’t even know what a Facebook was,” he jokes.
Lifeson wants to make the most of the spirit of good will surrounding him. With Masoudi’s help, he is trying to establish the Art of Giving Foundation that will benefit underprivileged children. When the Foundation is granted official charity status, they plan to embark on a journey, first to Buffalo, and then across North America, raising funds. Lifeson will dance the route, Masoudi will drive alongside him.
In an August 2010 blog post titled, “The dancin’ man and me,” local writer and television producer Rikki Ratliff poses the question, “Why does Jed dance?”
She answers herself in the following sentence. “The answer for him is hard to unpack because it’s so complex, but for me it’s simple — because I need him to. “