The Origins of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk: Vintage Footage of Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Jr., Fred Astaire & More

Michael Jack­son took one giant leap for pop his­to­ry on March 25, 1983 when he gave an ador­ing pub­lic their first taste of his sig­na­ture moon­walk in hon­or of Motown Records’ 25th birth­day. (See below)

Nov­el­ty-wise, it was­n’t quite a Neil Arm­strong moment. Like many artists, Jack­son had many prece­dents from which he could and did draw. He can be cred­it­ed with bring­ing a cer­tain atti­tude to the pro­ceed­ings. The expert prac­ti­tion­ers in the video above are more ebul­lient, tap­ping, slid­ing and pro­to-moon­walk­ing them­selves into a state of rap­ture that feeds off the audi­ence’s plea­sure.

The line-up includes artists lucky enough to have left last­ing foot­prints—Cab Cal­loway, Sam­my Davis Jr., Fred Astaire, as well as those we’d do well to redis­cov­er: Rub­ber­neck Holmes, Earl “Snake­hips” Tuck­er, Buck and Bub­bles.…

Lack­ing the Inter­net, how­ev­er, it does seem unlike­ly that Jack­son would’ve spent much time por­ing over the foot­work of these mas­ters. (He may have tak­en a sar­to­r­i­al cue from their socks.)

Instead, he invest­ed a lot of time break­ing down the street moves, what he referred to in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy as “a ‘pop­ping’ type of thing that black kids had cre­at­ed danc­ing on the street cor­ners in the ghet­to.”

Jack­son’s sis­ter, LaToya, iden­ti­fied for­mer Soul Train and Sol­id Gold dancer Jef­frey Daniel, below, as her broth­er’s pri­ma­ry tutor in this endeav­or. (He went on to co-chore­o­graph Jack­son’s videos for “Bad” and “Smooth Crim­i­nal”.) As to the sto­ry behind his moon­walk, or back­slide as he called it before Jack­son’s ver­sion oblit­er­at­ed the pos­si­bil­i­ty of any oth­er name, Daniel gave props to the same kids Jack­son did.

For those of you who men­tioned it on Twit­ter and in our com­ments, we’ve added Char­lie Chap­lin’s scene in Mod­ern Times.

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Keep­ing Jacko in Per­spec­tive

James Brown Gives You Danc­ing Lessons: From The Funky Chick­en to The Booga­loo

Yoko Ono, Age 80, Still Has Moves, Dances with The Beast­ie Boys, Ira Glass, Rober­ta Flack & Friends

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the author of sev­en books, and cre­ator of the award win­ning East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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Comments (7)
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  • Suzanna Emelio says:

    Chap­lin did it in Mod­ern Times!!

  • Diane says:

    All the greats study the greats. Jack­son was very can­did about his devo­tion to watch­ing those that had gone before him. QJ once said Michael was like a sponge — he soaked up every­thing. The bright­est and best nev­er stop learn­ing.

  • sophonie dorcena says:

    I don’t under­stand this

  • Sandra Reed says:

    Bill Bai­ley, the famous tap dancer, did the orig­i­nal “Moon­walk.” He called it the “Back­slide.”
    This was Pearl Bai­ley’s broth­er.

  • njei Hosea says:

    Mick­eal’s dead is a lost to the world

  • Roxanne says:

    Michael Jack­son got all his moves, as well as Bey­on­cé, from the incred­i­ble Bob Fos­se. Watch “The Lit­tle Prince”, which was one of Jackson’s favorite movies. You will see Fosse’s per­for­mance as “the snake” and just about every­thing Jack­son did was tak­en from this short but fan­tas­tic dance rou­tine by Fos­se.

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