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Moonwalking
December 3, 2011 10:33 PM   Subscribe

Remember the moonwalk? Of course you do. This is the first time it was performed in public.

Some of Michael Jackson's best moonwalking moments.

Here's his longest moonwalk.

It's never to late to learn. Here's a tutorial in case you want to impress your friends and family this Christmas.

Micheal Jackson himself teaching the moonwalk.

And just when you think you've got it, there's the forward moonwalk.

Here Jackson discusses where it came from.

Oh, and birds can moonwalk, as can dogs.
posted by SpacemanStix (46 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
Man, the day after that aired, everybody at school was trying to do it. It was the dance move heard 'round the world.
posted by Gilbert at 10:50 PM on December 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


Please stop making me miss the eighties.
posted by New England Cultist at 10:52 PM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it weird that I find watching his head/neck movement to be the most impressive part of the moonwalk?
posted by mikesch at 10:53 PM on December 3, 2011


Don't forget the Eternal Moonwalk
posted by Catblack at 10:58 PM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even after watching tutorial, it is still harder than it looks.
posted by selenized at 10:58 PM on December 3, 2011


On May 4th, 2007, we asked internet users to help isolate Michael Jackson's white glove in all 10,060 frames of his nationally televised landmark performance of Billy Jean. 72 hours later 125,000 gloves had been located. wgt_data_v1.txt is the culmination of data collected. It is released here for all to download and use as an input into any digital system.
posted by migurski at 11:01 PM on December 3, 2011 [10 favorites]


Disregarding all the later MJ madness it still gives me shivers to see the man at the height of his powers. I was always surprised with how quickly that move comes and goes in that premier performance. Legendary moment.
posted by Jibuzaemon at 11:06 PM on December 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


Bill Bailey (the American tap dancer, not the British comedian) was doing the moonwalk in the 1950s.
posted by w0mbat at 11:08 PM on December 3, 2011 [19 favorites]


migurski - Oh hell yes . . . my GOD I love the internet . . . thanks . . .
posted by eggman at 11:14 PM on December 3, 2011


Bill Bailey (the American tap dancer, not the British comedian) was doing the moonwalk in the 1950s

I was shocked that the "first time" link actually did something so prosaic as to point to the Jackson clip. Metafilter is not generally where I come to see popular misconceptions get reinforced.
posted by anazgnos at 11:23 PM on December 3, 2011 [14 favorites]


Bob Fosse did a pretty good moonwalk in The Little Prince (1974) (~ 6m20s). Fosse's performance had to have been an influence on Jackson.
posted by benzenedream at 11:34 PM on December 3, 2011 [10 favorites]


Whether it was the first or not, the man could move.
posted by maxwelton at 11:36 PM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cab Calloway does an early version of the Moonwalk, which he called The Buzz, in 1932.

Jeffrey Daniels of Shalomar does the moonwalk in 1982.

Moonwalk in Malcolm McLaren's "Buffalo Gals", filmed in 1982.

Before it was called the Moonwalk, the move was called the backslide. It was a move used in mime to represent walking against the wind, and almost certainly entered the breakdancing subculture the same way all mime did, through Shield and Yarnell's robot family.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:42 PM on December 3, 2011 [29 favorites]


One of the most remarkable entertainers ever.
posted by Twang at 11:54 PM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Disregarding all the later MJ madness it still gives me shivers to see the man at the height of his powers.

Billie Jean's one of the all-time great pop songs, too. Killer beat, killer vocal, killer hook. The guy really could do it all.
posted by eugenen at 11:56 PM on December 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Man, the day after that aired, everybody at school was trying to do it. It was the dance move heard 'round the world.

I didn't watch the original performance. But apparently everyone else in my grade school did. I vividly remember a bunch of kids during recess attempting to replicate the maneuver. Nobody was able to do it. Having never seen the original inspiration, it appeared as if they were having leg convulsions. These were a bunch of white kids from rural-ish middle America. It was indeed the dance move heard 'round the world.
posted by quadog at 11:56 PM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Aaand I think I finally kind of figured out how to moonwalk. It is stupid-hard and counter-intuitive, like it just feels totally wrong and messes with how you've spent decades learning how to walk. I'm not a terrible dancer, but it's not an easy move at all. Much less doing it fluidly.

The trick is not lift the foot you're pulling back at all, and push off the ball of your partially raised foot. All motion comes from you pushing back off the ball of either partially raised foot, not the dragging foot. I've always tried to do this backwards - pushing off the flat foot and dragging the foot with the raised heel.

In retrospect I've had dozens of people explain it to me just like that but I never got it until now.

Michael Jackson is such a weird phenomenon. Billie Jean is really sparse, textbook minimal dance-pop - but the lyrics and melody are really dark. The dance moves Michael Jackson is doing in the main video aren't really that complicated - but he's performing them a thousand times harder and about a hundred times more precisely than they would ever need to be performed by anyone else. So much obvious over-tension and self torment and he just overextends and snaps every flourish.

It's not just that he's fast and precise, nor the fact that he keeps moving so much that he's floating and defying gravity but it's that he's dancing with a ridiculous amount of tension sprung across his wiry frame. It's not loose like hip hop, or jazz, or softshoe or tap dancing - he's moving like some kind of tortured clockwork springwork robot, programmed down to each hip snap and step to the beats of the song. Seriously, each his hip pivots and their intensity are patterned and timed to the measure and phrases of the song, and it basically never stops moving throughout the entire performance regardless of everything else going on.

I've danced to house and techno like that a bit, getting that stompy and tight - and it's like trying to do yoga or pilates while break dancing and having an argument with yourself. It'll wreck you and leave you winded and hypoxic in the space of minutes or seconds. If I tried to snap some of those fast foot placements and ankle turns the same exact way I'd break something off.

I can't imagine trying to do it while singing and going through some kind of a scary fugue of a performance.

The farther away we get from that era the weirder and more intense everything about Michael Jackson seems to get.
posted by loquacious at 11:56 PM on December 3, 2011 [48 favorites]


I cried and cried at the Brickyard mall when my mom said I couldn't buy his album that included a replica of the glove.

I still haven't gotten over it. I really haven't. I think my heart broke for the first time that day.

.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:38 AM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just to add to the "hey! that wasn't the first moonwalk!" backlash, the first time *I* ever saw it (As a dance move, as opposed to mime) was in Flashdance, which came out slightly after the Motown special was taped, yet slightly before the special actually aired. I never *ever* considered Michael Jackson to be the origin of the move, and was always, frankly, a bit resentful that it became so closely associated with him.
posted by ShutterBun at 12:51 AM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


(upon review it looks like the Rock Steady Crew were the performers in both the Flashdance clip I posted, as well as the previously posted Malcolm McLaren clip)
posted by ShutterBun at 1:02 AM on December 4, 2011


I just watched, about two days ago, the series 5 episode of QI where they ask who first did the moonwalk. I thought I was doing pretty well guessing Bob Fosse after reading about The Little Prince here, but their answer was the Bill Bailey clip that w0mbat linked to.

They also showed the Manakin bird clip in "birds can moonwalk" link, but all I can think of with some of the sideways stuff at around 3:00 here is James Brown. Get up, get on up....
posted by markr at 1:09 AM on December 4, 2011


I have always hated that it is called "moonwalk" - as if astronauts actually walked like that on the moon. WTF?
posted by davidmsc at 1:38 AM on December 4, 2011


Fosse's performance had to have been an influence on Jackson.

Only to the same extent that Hitchcock was in "influence" on Brian DePalma.
posted by ShutterBun at 1:51 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


loquacious: "It's not just that he's fast and precise, nor the fact that he keeps moving so much that he's floating and defying gravity but it's that he's dancing with a ridiculous amount of tension sprung across his wiry frame [..] "

Wow, you make him sound like the Bruce Lee of dance, and that fits surprisingly well.
posted by vanar sena at 2:23 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Billie Jean is really sparse, textbook minimal dance-pop - but the lyrics and melody are really dark.

Which is sort of the genius of rock/pop music: putting sad lyrics to upbeat music.
posted by valkyryn at 2:39 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you look at the crowd shot at 3:17, people sure did dress up for rock concerts.
posted by pewpew at 3:57 AM on December 4, 2011


What's weird to me is how I remember the lack of easy access to video back then. When something big happened on TV, it truly was an event. Almost everyone at school saw that show that night, and I still remember the buzz it created. We were all talking about it and of course all of us third graders were trying -poorly - to moonwalk all through lunch and recess. There was no real second chance to see it, especially not easily. There was no YouTube or Netflix or Hulu.

Nowadays most people would have missed the moonwalk because they weren't watching the show when it came on. Some would catch it later at their convenience. Most would catch the clip after it started spreading on blogs and Facebook. Different times, to be sure. It still would have created buzz. It wouldn't have had the type of moment, though, like it did back then.
posted by azpenguin at 4:38 AM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Being too young to really know the pop culture of the 80s firsthand, much of my interpretation comes via Bloom County, as in the case of Steve Dallas dancing like Michael in the bathroom.
posted by knile at 5:20 AM on December 4, 2011


The top 1/3 of his body is singing.

The bottom 2/3 is just... damn. What happened.
posted by Jimbob at 5:35 AM on December 4, 2011


In the modern era, everyone would respond with youtube videos of the Fosse dance from Le Petit Prince... and there would be flame wars.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:14 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


There was one girl in my fifth grade class who could moonwalk. The rest of us just sort of jerked around like uncontrolled puppets, though we sure tried hard.
posted by Forktine at 6:41 AM on December 4, 2011


The Moonwalk Superstar
posted by jquinby at 6:52 AM on December 4, 2011


Looks like he's also having the first Jackson wardrobe malfunction as well. Sure, he's flashing his sequined socks at us on purpose, but some of those pants descents look unintentional and somewhat frustrating. Though he could just be wearing Chaplin pants and silk briefs in a tribute to his heroes.

Maybe he isn't wearing underwear at all.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:41 AM on December 4, 2011


Jeffrey Daniels discusses how and when he talk Micheal Jackson how to Moonwalk.
posted by crunchland at 8:32 AM on December 4, 2011


Michael talks about Motown 25:

Now the Moonwalk was already out on the street by this time, but I enhanced it a little when I did it. It was born as a break-dance step, a “popping” type of thing that blacks kids had created dancing on the street corners in the ghetto. Black people are truly innovative dancers; they create many of the new dances, pure and simple. So I said, “This is my chance to do it,” and I did it. These three kids taught it to me. They gave me the basics – and I had been doing it a lot in private. I had practiced it together with certain other steps. All I was really sure of was that on the bridge to “Billie Jean” I was going to walk backward and forward at the same time, like walking on the moon.

...

I turned around and grabbed the hat and went into “Billie Jean,” into that heavy rhythm; I could tell that people in the audience were really enjoying my performance. My brothers told me they were crowding the wings watching me with their mouths open, and my parents and sisters were out there in the audience. But I just remember opening my eyes at the end of the thing and seeing this sea of people standing up, applauding. And I felt so many conflicting emotions. I knew I had done my best and felt good, so good. But at the same time I felt disappointed in myself. I had planned to do one really long spin and to stop on my toes, suspended for a moment, but I didn’t stay on my toes as long as I wanted. I did the spin and I landed on one toe. I wanted to just stay there, just freeze there, but it didn’t work quite as I’d planned.

...

The day after the Motown 25 show, Fred Astaire called me on the telephone. He said – these are his exact words – “You’re a hell of a mover. Man, you really put them on their asses last night.” That’s what Fred Astaire said to me. I thanked him. Then he said, “You’re an angry dancer. I’m the same way. I used to do the same thing with my cane.”
posted by girlmightlive at 8:48 AM on December 4, 2011 [20 favorites]


It's wild to see a pop star dancing all by himself on a stage alone. No backup dancers! Hardly see that anymore.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:53 AM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was reading about this a few months ago and the general thought was that MJ likely got it from Bowie, he’d seen him do it live, and Bowie probably got it from mimes.

http://www.kqed.org/arts/performance/article.jsp?essid=65877
posted by bongo_x at 9:39 AM on December 4, 2011


The thing I like so much about the MJ performance is that instead of looking like he moving to the music, it looks like he is possessed, or taken over, by the music. (It's my external take on what loquacious explains is going on internally above.) The music is so jangly, torn and tortured that it tenses and tears his body. Oddly, it reminded me of David Byrne's opening Psycho Killer dance from Stop Making Sense.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:42 AM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


as if astronauts actually walked like that on the moon. WTF?

Well, there are two things about it. First, it looks unnatural, and that's what the astronauts looked like -- mainly a result of the pressurize moon suits that wouldn't allow much free movement. (Various astronauts tried different techniques, ranging from a back-and-forth swishing motion to the "bunny hop". Straightforward Terran walking motion tended to result in a loss of balance.) Second is the impression of floating, which is definitely what the astronauts looked like due to the lower moon gravity.

Of course, the name was applied post-hoc: this wasn't an imitative move, it had existed for years.

If you look at the crowd shot at 3:17, people sure did dress up for rock concerts.

This was no ordinary rock concert. It was a celebration of 25 years of a record label, and most of the audience were insiders of one type or another -- and many of them went back to the early days. Also, this was widely known beforehand as a coming out party for the solo Michael Jackson, who was of course beloved for his endearing juvenilia. Part of the energy of this performance is this "hometown crowd" effect. Finally, of course, it was a TV special, not a concert per se.
posted by dhartung at 10:19 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember watching the "This is It" movie in theaters and being amazed that even at 50, even amid all these rumors that he was sick or weak, in the footage of MJ rehearsing for the concerts that never happened, he seemed to have a preternatural knowledge of rhythm and using his body. It was so crazy to see him next to these young, strong 20-something dancers and he still had something that they just didn't quite connect with.
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:47 AM on December 4, 2011


The chair is not my son.
posted by neuron at 11:48 AM on December 4, 2011


It's good to see that the MJ disdain (if not outright hatred) has dimished a bit since the Moonwalk was last discussed (not nearly as gracefully or in depth) awhile back. (And really, that post was more about the feeling that came with remembering how it felt at the time than anything else.) But @ Neuron: is "The chair is not my son" an inside joke or reference of sorts? Because you made exactly the same reference on March 25, 2008. Just curious.
posted by t2urner at 3:46 PM on December 4, 2011


"The chair is not my son." From David Letterman when the song came out.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:00 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


most of the audience were insiders of one type or another -- and many of them went back to the early days

One of the audience members was legendary bassist James Jamerson, one of the Funk Brothers, who played on around 95% of Motown recordings between 1962 and 1968. Jameson had to buy a ticket to this concert.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:07 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Great post, marred by fanboyistic, false lead sentence. SpacemanStix, why didn't you go with:

"Remember the moonwalk? Of course you do. This is the first time he performed it in public."
posted by IAmBroom at 12:53 PM on December 5, 2011


SpacemanStix, why didn't you go with:

"Remember the moonwalk? Of course you do. This is the first time he performed it in public."


Yeah, that's kinda what I meant, as it was framed around Michael Jackson's moonwalk. It wasn't meant to be a historical retrospective, although reflecting on it, that would've made it much cooler. Sorry if it hindered your enjoyment of the post.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:40 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


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