The West Wind Dance

On Michael Jackson’s moonwalk into history

Michael Jackson   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Michael Jackson the musician is a package of grunts and glides. To get the most out of him, he has to be experienced aurally and visually. However, when a musician who relies heavily on both vocal cords and heel cords has to be analysed effectively, each of the two skills has to be discussed separately.

So, let's mute MJ the singer and follow him as he makes those moves around the stage floor and in his music videos. We can start with ‘Bad,’ using the album as a barometer of MJ’s prowess as well as evolution as dancer. Simply because this album is now in the news. Thirty years ago, on July 2, 1988, ‘Dirty Diana’ from ‘Bad’ topped the table at the Billboard Hot 100.

After ‘I just Can't Stop Loving You,’ ‘Bad,’ ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ and ‘Man in the Mirror,’ ‘Dirty Diana’ became the fifth single from the album to reach the Billboard summit. With this, MJ became the first artiste and the only male artiste to have five hit-singles from the same album.

For those enamoured of MJ with his signature moves, this album was a bit of a let-down. Soundar MJ is an MJ diehard. Not only that, he makes a living out of MJ’s dance moves, presenting them in an overall stage act of MJ impersonation. He points out ‘Bad’ does not have MJ’s signature moves — most of the songs in the album did not provide enough scope for them. As we know, these signature moves, which include the moonwalk, glide, sidewalk, the circle glide, puppet and toe stand, have made a ‘danctitution’ of MJ. In the official video of the song Billie Jean from the album ‘Thriller,’ you see some of these moves. When MJ launched a successful career as a touring solo artiste, he would use Billie Jean to showcase a wide range of his signature moves.

 

The MJ magic

When MJ presented Billie Jean, on an anniversary of the song, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, a sea of spectators went berserk as he shifted from one move to another. The video of the performance is available on YouTube. MJ the dancer was essentially lionised for the seemingly impossible things he managed to do with his feet. There is a glimpse of that MJ in Smooth Criminal, where he seems to be demonstrating that leaning 45 degrees is an absolutely natural thing to do.

 

Soundar believes ‘Bad’ did not offer less of MJ, but a different side of MJ. MJ had evolved, as any artiste committed to honing his craft constantly, would. The album arrived in a period when the hip-hop culture was fast gaining ground. Hip-hop musicians such as M.C. Hammer were on the ascent and redefining dance music. And, from a dance perspective, a part of this album was in alignment with the times. In the title song ‘Bad,’ there are dancers, who present slices of hip-hop.

Even without MJ’s signature moves, the group dances in the album are riveting. That’s because MJ was brilliant being a part of a group of dancers, on-stage or in recording. He would combine with the rest effortlessly, because he would have earlier gone through each move meticulously, in practice.

So, for the discerning spectator, MJ was an angel with golden dancing shoes, with or without his signature moves.

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Printable version | Nov 21, 2020 10:46:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dance/on-how-mj-moonwalked-into-history/article24339155.ece

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