Definitely Not the Opera

Sean O'Brien dances from shame to fame

One night in March 2015, somebody snapped a few pictures of Londoner Sean O'Brien dancing at a nightclub. A few days later they posted them to the website 4chan in an attempt to humiliate him. But the pictures instead turned him into a celebrity.
Sean O'Brien, also known as 'Dancing Man', earned worldwide fame after anonymous posters tried to shame him online. (Courtesy S. O'Brien)

You probably know the saying "dance like nobody's watching."

That's what London, England's Sean O'Brien likes to do when he's out clubbing with his friends.

But one night, in March 2015, somebody was watching. And they snapped a few pictures of him dancing at a nightclub. A few days later the pictures were anonymously posted to the website 4chan, along with a caption which read, "Spotted this specimen trying to dance the other week. He stopped when he saw us laughing." 
Someone took photos of Sean O'Brien dancing, then posted them online. (Courtesy S. O'Brien)

He had no idea the photos were posted, or that they would soon take on a life of their own.

"I had a really close friend ring me up to say,' Have you seen the internet? Your face is all over it and you won't believe what's happening,'" he said.

O'Brien was taken aback by the comments attached to the photos of him.

"What makes somebody want to do that?" he wondered. "What satisfaction are they going to get out of that?"

But soon after the photos and nasty comments been posted, positive comments started coming in — including those from a group of women in Los Angeles, who set about trying to find O'Brien.

They posted an invite online, asking him to come to a dance party with more than 1,700 of their friends. 
Four women from Los Angeles posted this invitation for Sean O'Brien after he was shamed online. (Cassandra Fairbanks)

O'Brien accepted the invitation, and was flown to Los Angeles for a massive dance party — which also became a fundraiser for anti-bullying charities.

Some notable celebrities got involved too. Pharrell Williams made a special video for him which was shown at the party. 

Moby DJed the event. Even Monica Lewinsky attended. Pretty soon O'Brien was something of a celebrity.

"What had started as an attempt to humiliate me online without me ever knowing escalated into something so big," he said. "I still pinch myself to think, 'Did it really happen?'"

"Monica Lewinsky coached us about what it's like to go in front of so many people, about standing up to bullies and making a stance," he said. "Obviously she had gone through it in her own life. She was really special, actually." 
Monica Lewinsky attended the dance party that was thrown for Sean O'Brien after he was shamed online. (Courtesy S. O'Brien)

O'Brien has never met the people who posted the photos in the first place.

"It would be good to see them because I would like to understand why they did it," he said.

"Ironically, I'd also like to say thanks for what they've given me over the last year — 12 months of the most surreal experiences that I could ever have dreamed of."