Meet the Edmonton dancer behind an internet mystery

Stressed out from hours of studying, Michael Startsev stepped onto the green shag carpet in his wood-panelled basement to bust a move.

When the Edmonton native uploaded the video of his fancy footwork on YouTube, he unwittingly found celebrity.

Within a matter of weeks, that first video, set to the tune of Austrian musician Parov Stelar's Catgroove, racked up millions of views and Startsev's YouTube moniker, takeSomeCrime, was gaining international attention.

Ten years later, that original video has been watched more than 38 million times. Startsev's YouTube channel has garnered more than 99 million views and more than 188,000 subscribers. And he has a cult following of diehard fans around the world.

"I don't think anyone has deciphered the magic formula to make a viral hit video on YouTube," said Startsev, who dances under the name Forsythe. "But I think there was a multitude of factors that have come together to give me this opportunity.

"I think a lot of of it has to do with luck. But I would say for anybody out there that's trying to do this, persistence can convince luck to come to you."

'The right place at the right time'

The room he danced in for that first video was, he said, "this cheesy 1980s-styled green carpeted room with the wooden panelling in the back.

"And I was dancing to a song that was sort of a remix of 1930s music with some hip-hop beats," he said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. "And I was dancing old-style, Charleston-style, with some strange arm movements. And I think that just hit people in the right place at the right time."  

Startsev was never classically trained, but started dancing secretly in his basement as a way to blow off some steam during his years as an electrical engineering student at the University of Alberta.  

'My path was very unconventional'

He was introverted and often spent long hours studying alone. It was during one of these particularly gruelling sessions that he decided to don a suit and a bowler hat and test out his new camera.

He credits his childhood karate training for his unusual swagger on the dance floor. 

"I would get really tired, the blood would pool in my legs and my bottom, and I would need to release some of that physical and psychological stress," he said. "And somehow that led to me dancing alone in my basement and taping it.

"My path was very unconventional into dancing."

He went on to perform on with Parov Stelar, star in a German commercial, land an agent in Croatia and take the stage in a gold-lamé leotard during Monarchy's set at the Coachella music festival.

He has been written about in the New York Times, The Financial Times and Forbes. He was recently featured in an exhibit at the Venice Biennale in Italy, one of the world's biggest annual arts events.

But his true identity has always remained a secret until now. 

For years, Startsev feared that his online persona would hurt his academic reputation, and felt self-conscious about some his more "scantily clad" videos. Many of his friends still have no idea about his double life.

'I'm grateful for it'

But as he begins a new engineering career in California, he has no qualms about revealing his true identity. He's no longer concerned about judgment from "stuffy professors." 

And he has faith that his fans will continue to subscribe to his performances, even if a little bit of the mystery has been lost.

"Hopefully, I will be able to retain some of those fans at this point, after having danced for so long and acquired a relationship with them," he said. "Maybe they'll follow for the sake of the dance, not just the mystique.

"It really is a great opportunity. There is nothing that I've done to deserve it. But I'm grateful for it."