As a member of the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson was a child star. In 1979, with the release of Off The Wall, Michael Jackson became a solo star. With Thriller (1982) he broadened his appeal and became a superstar. His early run of solo videos are widely credited with popularising music videos both as a promotional tool and as a platform for dance.
The Beat It, Billie Jean, and Thriller videos lead to a craze for learning Michael Jackson’s moves, though it was moonwalk that took Jackson’s dancing to the stratosphere. According to Biography, the moonwalk first came to widespread attention in a live performance on NBC. This video by Ricardo Walker shows the evolution of Michael Jackson’s dance:
That’s quite a rush! Key dance sequences from 16 top Michael Jackson tracks in 5 minutes, complete with costume changes and well-thought-out transitions. No wonder the video has 42m views on YouTube. To top it, Michael Jackson dance fanatics can sign-up to learn the choreography from Ricardo Walker in 16 weeks. All it takes, he says, is discipline and guidance, though he does warn that “Every party I go to, every school I’ve ever studied at, I always have to show at least one move.”
As impressive as Ricardo Walker’s MJ impersonation skills are, his most popular video on YouTube shows just what a stylish and versatile dancer Walker is. The video, The Evolution of Dance – 1950 to 2019, has an incredible 35 dance styles – from Gene Kelly’s singing in the rain, through Elvis, Saturday Night fever, MC Hammer, Tom Jones, all the way to Little Nas’s Old Time Road. It has 92 million views. I can’t help thinking that for skilled dancers, it would make an excellent workout routine!
Interestingly, Ricardo Walker, is not simply a dancer and impersonator. As an actor, his biggest roles include a male cop come stripper in the film What Happens in Vegas (2008) and a U.N. security officer in The Interpreter (2005). Ricardo Walker is Brazilian.
Now a word of warning. One of Michael Jackson’s most impressive dance moves is in the video for 1987’s Smooth Criminal. Doctors warn that even with the right kit, the Smooth Criminal lean is extremely dangerous. Dr Tripathi, a neurosurgeon and Michael Jackson fan who has studied the move, has said: “The chances of injury to the ankle are significant. You need strong core muscles and good support around the ankle. It’s not a simple trick.”
Essentially Jackson tilts from his ankle at a 45-degree angle, with his body straight as a rod. The move is an illusion dependent on modified shoes, incredible core strength, and a securely anchored spike to fit in a v-shaped slit in the shoe soles. Apparently, Jackson first used a harness and cables for the move before the idea of the shoes were borrowed from a type of astronaut boots that were designed to attach to a sturdy rail as sometimes needed in zero gravity. (Perhaps the moonwalk dance led to the astronaut-boot-influenced trick by a process of lateral thinking?).
Speaking of the moonwalk, the move was not originated by Michael Jackson, though he did refine it. When MJ introduced the moonwalk into his routines in 1983, he was drawing on West Coast street dancers who had developed the “popping style” of mechanised stop/start movements. Pioneers of the style included The Electric Boogaloos who danced on the Soul Train tv show in the 1970s. According to Jackson, he was shown the move by friends, before he worked on perfecting it into the slick move accompanied by a quick spin and a toe stand that remains his signature sequence. The biography notes that “the moment is a particular part of dance history because Jackson bridged the gap between West Coast street dance and the East Coast break dancers, who were part of the early days of hip-hop.”