Student Spotlight: Jake Gaba ’16

by The Dartmouth | 1/15/14 4:22pm

by Kelsey Kittelsen / The Dartmouth

While Jake Gaba ’16 participated in theater and choir in high school, he’s found himself in his biggest role yet: global social media star. This fall, on his Chinese Language Study Abroad Plus trip to Beijing, Gaba filmed himself wearing rainbow-patterned swim trunks and dancing in public places — 91 distinct places, to be exact.

The video, “Guy Dances Across China in 100 Days,” is a mash-up of Gaba dancing to Bruno Mars’s “Treasure,” and includes footage from travels to a mountainous region of Tibet, the terracotta soldiers in Xian and his university home, Beijing Normal University. The video, featured on Good Morning America last week, has nearly 200,000 YouTube views and over 300,000 views on YOUKU, a Chinese video-sharing website.

Gaba sat down with The Dartmouth to talk about the video, his involvement in the arts at Dartmouth and his plans to enjoy the winter weather.

How did you get the idea to film a video like this?JG: I brought my camera with me to China, which does video and still photography. I took it just to take pictures, but my friend Nash Larmoyeux ’15, who was also on the trip, suggested I make a video, something like Nathan Barnatt. The first time filming was at the Great Wall. I remember thinking that this was going to be good, this was going to be really good. I started carrying my camera and tripod wherever I went.

Was it difficult to find time to film?JG: During the week, I couldn’t really do much, because we were really busy. We had six hours of class a day and three to four hours of homework. We’d work, eat, sleep and not much else. On the weekends, we would either travel or get on a bus and get bused to a cultural thing. On Wednesdays, too, we would go to see a Chinese play or opera. When we finally got out on the weekends, I might have the group stop three or four times so I could film. The other kids on the trip got a little annoyed toward the end, but they put up with me.

What kind of reaction did you get while you were filming?JG: It would be so fun. Sometimes 40 to 50 Chinese people would gather around my camera, pointing and taking pictures on their phones. When I finished dancing, a lot of people would clap and smile. At least I think everyone really liked it. Some of them would come up to take pictures of me and be a little shocked that I could speak Chinese. I’d always ask my professor if it was an appropriate place to film when we were out on trips together.

Was post-production difficult?JG: I tried to do as much as I could on the plane back, but there wasn’t a power outlet to charge my laptop. In total, it took about 15 hours to edit but more than that to catalogue and arrange the clips.

What was most surprising about the viral success of the video?JG: It’s been really popular in China. One of my friends from the trip, Max Liu ’14, has been helping me promote the video in China, and we’re hoping I’ll be able to get on a Chinese talk show. The video was also featured on a popular ex-pat lifestyle blog, The Shanghaiist.

What did your parents think about it?JG: They think it’s crazy that it’s getting so popular. I told them that I was doing it, but when they came to China to visit me for two weeks, they were so embarrassed when I’d dance in public. That was the very end of the trip, and I kept reminding them that I had done it 70 times before. When they saw the finished product, though, they loved it. My dad is a professor at Southern Methodist University and sent it out to his students.

What kind of projects are you interested in next?JG: My friend Devon Koch ’16 and I have been making videos together, but he’s off this term. We started a recording and video production group, Symbiotic Studios, and have worked with different people on campus to produce music videos: Amber Dewey ’12, Nate Graves ’13 and Michael Tree ’13. Xavier Curry ’14 and I recorded an album last spring that we are hoping to release soon, and I actually filmed some stuff with Devon last year, another video of me dancing around campus, that we never got around to editing. Maybe we’ll go back to that now. It might be a good follow-up.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.


If I could take any celebrity to lunch: Jon Stewart. He seems like a cool, funny guy.

My favorite food on campus: yellow cake at FoCo. It’s so good.

One thing I want to try this winter: learning how to ski. I’ve never gone. The first time I went snowboarding, I fell, like, over 800 times.