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.
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Ayun Halliday is the author of seven books, and creator of the award winning East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday
Chaplin did it in Modern Times!!
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.
I don’t understand this
Bill Bailey, the famous tap dancer, did the original “Moonwalk.” He called it the “Backslide.”
This was Pearl Bailey’s brother.
Mickeal’s dead is a lost to the world
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.