Dancing With Michael’s Dream
Joie: A couple of weeks ago, Willa and I took a really fun look at Michael’s mention of The Force in the song “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” and that discussion led us to take a peek at Dancing the Dream, Michael’s book of poems and reflections. And it was so difficult for me not to completely lose track of time and focus as I was flipping through that book for The Force because it’s just so wonderful, and I kept finding myself engrossed in his words. And Willa expressed a similar sentiment when we talked about it so, we knew that we had to have a conversation about this incredible book.
You know, Willa, I have to say that I absolutely love this book so much. And as I was reading it this week, I came to the realization that, as much as I truly love the music and as much as the music means to me – and believe me, it means everything – I really cherish this book just as much, if not more. Dancing the Dream was released really quietly in June of 1992 as a follow up to his autobiography, Moonwalk (1988). It didn’t receive a whole lot of attention and in the only interview Michael did to promote it, he described it as, “Just a verbal expression of what I usually express through my music and my dance.” And that is the feeling that I get whenever I flip through this book. Open it up to any one of the poems or essays and it is very easy to imagine the words he has written in those pages set to music.
Willa: I agree, and I think Michael Jackson himself emphasizes that by including the lyrics to “Heal the World” and “Will You Be There,” along with images from his concerts and videos. By interspersing these throughout the book, he seems to be showing that his stories and poetry aren’t something separate from the work he’s usually known for. They’re all interconnected: his poetry and songs, his drawings and videos, his dancing and his body, the entirety of his musical and visual art.
Joie: Each poem and essay is a beautifully written, honest expression of what was in his heart. All the same love and passion he poured into every song and every dance is all right there between those pages. All the concern for the environment, all the compassion and love for humanity, all the wonder of magic and spirituality. I really get a sense that these are his deepest, innermost thoughts – his hopes and dreams for the planet and human kind – and I find it both fascinating and bittersweet in a way.
Willa: Joie, you just touched on something so important, I think, when you talked about “all the love and passion he poured into every song and every dance.” When we were talking about “Don’t Stop” a couple weeks ago and his ideas about the Dance of Creation, I kept feeling that, for him, his creativity and his spirituality have a very physical dimension, and they’re closely connected with dance and sexual energy as well. I wasn’t able to express myself very well about that, and I’m still struggling to put what I feel into words. But I think they are so deeply connected for him because they are all expressions of love and passion: creative passion, sexual passion, spiritual passion, and above all, compassion. They’re all intertwined for him, and all expressions of “the eternal dance of creation.”
Joie: Willa, I think I understand what you’re trying to get at here and you’re right, it does feel as if it’s all intricately interwoven for him because, as you say, they are all expressions of love and passion. It makes me think of his words in “Love,” one of the essays from Dancing the Dream, where he says,
“When it’s allowed to be free, love is what makes life alive, joyful, and new. It’s the juice and energy that motivates my music, my dancing, everything. As long as love is in my heart, it’s everywhere.”
For him love is the energy that motivates … everything! You know, Willa, the more we talk about this book and the more I read and re-read each poem and essay, the more it reinforces that idea that this book is really just a physical representation of his heart. Love – in all its forms – was the motivating factor in everything he did … in every song he wrote, in every note he sang, in every dance move his body executed, in every charity and humanitarian cause he supported. And this book is a physical manifestation of that.
Willa: I really feel that too, Joie. You know, talking about love tends to make us uncomfortable. But as you say, “Love – in all its forms – was the motivating factor in everything he did.” It’s the energy that powers him, the light that guides him, the warmth that comforts him and makes him strong. But as he also emphasizes throughout this book, before we can really love others, we have to know ourselves. And that means fully embracing our strengths and our talents, which can be even more difficult than acknowledging our weaknesses.
Have you ever had the feeling that an idea – something important – is nudging you at the edge of your brain, and you can’t seem to ignore it but you can’t quite grasp it either? I’ve had that feeling ever since we started talking about The Force and the Dance of Creation – that there’s something very important and powerful here, but I’m not quite able to see it or understand it yet. And I think it ties in with a quote from Marianne Williamson that was posted at my son’s Montessori school:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Joie: That is such a beautiful and inspiring quote!
Willa: Isn’t it wonderful? I used to read it every day when I picked my son up from school, and it resonated so deeply with me. I know that fear of being too powerful, too visible, too vocal, too much. I think a lot of people, women especially, experience that fear. But “playing small does not serve the world.” As she says, “We are all meant to shine, as children do.”
I see Michael Jackson expressing very similar ideas throughout Dancing the Dream. And he isn’t talking about being pushy and aggressive. People who worked with him often mention his genuine humility and gentle nature. He’s talking about knowing your strengths and talents, and fully inhabiting them. As he says in “Heaven is Here,” one of my favorite poems from Dancing the Dream,
Don’t be afraid To know who you are You are much more Than you ever imagined
Michael Jackson wasn’t just an amazing artist; he was a tremendously powerful cultural figure. And he was powerful because he knew who he was.
He also wasn’t afraid to reveal who he was. He was a wonderfully gifted child who confidently walked on stage when everyone knew a child couldn’t possibly sing and dance that way. He became the most successful recording artist of all time when everyone knew that child stars flame out into drug-addled adults. He was an incredibly sexy Black man at a time when everyone knew Black men had to hide their sexuality so they wouldn’t be too threatening. He changed the signifiers of his race when everyone knew that was impossible. He was the most important artist of our time when everyone knew pop stars were too shallow to create serious art. And he captured the imaginations of billions of people around the world because he knew who he was.
And he didn’t let anyone else define who he was. Whenever I read mainstream articles about him, I’m constantly struck by how outraged they are that he wasn’t conforming to their expectations. He did not conform. He was wonderfully and uniquely himself. He knew who he was and what he believed, he held true to that vision, and he changed the world.
Joie: That’s a really profound way to put that, Willa and you’re absolutely right. He did know exactly who he was and he wasn’t afraid to show it. And because of all those things you just mentioned, and more, I have always thought of him as one of the most courageous people ever to grace this planet. And what you just said reminds me of what he says in “Courage,” another of his essays from Dancing the Dream that I know you and I both love. He says this:
“When you have the courage to be intimate, you know who you are, and you’re willing to let others see that. It’s scary, because you feel so vulnerable, so open to rejection. But without self-acceptance, the other kind of courage, the kind heroes show in movies, seems hollow. In spite of the risks, the courage to be honest and intimate opens the way to self-discovery. It offers what we all want, the promise of love.”
The courage to know who you are and to let others see it. So just like in the poem, “Heaven is Here,” he repeats this idea in the essay “Courage.” That tells me it was a concept that meant a lot to him – this idea of being true to yourself and knowing who you are.
Willa: I love “Courage,” especially the passage you just quoted. It expresses his ideas so simply yet powerfully, but that doesn’t mean these are simple ideas. As he explains,
“Expressing your feelings is not the same as falling apart in front of someone else – it’s being accepting and true to your heart, whatever it may say.”
That’s a really important distinction. He’s not talking about being a basket case and “falling apart in front of someone,” and letting your fears and emotions rule you. Not at all. That isn’t what he means by “the courage to express true feelings.” He’s talking about self-knowledge, about knowing who you are and having the courage to be honest and “true to your heart” – true to yourself and your convictions.
Joie: Exactly! He echoes it again in the essay “Trust” when he says,
“In accepting yourself completely, trust becomes complete. There is no longer any separation between people, because there is no longer any separation inside. In the space where fear used to live, love is allowed to grow.”
Willa: Oh, I love that! I think a lot of times we’re guided by fear that other people won’t like the person we are, so we pretend to be something we’re not, and then we’re governed by fear that we’ll be found out. But if we can accept the person we are, that fear goes away and, as he says, “In the space where fear used to live, love is allowed to grow.” I really believe that’s true.
Joie: This idea of knowing who you are is one of the central themes that runs throughout the book.
Willa: I agree. He repeatedly talks about the importance of being honest with ourselves and cultivating self-knowledge, not just for our own benefit but for the benefit of all. He repeats this idea and shows the global implications in “That One in the Mirror”:
The pain of life touches me, but the joy of life is so much stronger. And it alone will heal. Life is the healer of life, and the most I can do for the earth is to be its loving child.
That one in the mirror winced and squirmed. He hadn’t thought so much about love. Seeing “problems” was much easier, because love means complete self-honesty. Ouch! …
Would that change the world? I think it will, because Mother Earth wants us to be happy and to love her as we tend her needs. She needs fearless people on her side, whose courage comes from being part of her. … When that one in the mirror is full of love for me and for him, there is no room for fear. When we were afraid and panicky, we stopped loving this life of ours and this earth. We disconnected. …
One thing I know: I never feel alone when I am earth’s child.
Joie: Willa, I just love that! That passage you just cited makes me think of the lyrics to the song “Shout” when he says, “We’re disconnected from love / We’re disrespecting each other / Whatever happened to protecting each other?” I think he is referring to the same thing here. Being disconnected from love – love of the planet and love of each other. If we could return to that connection, would it change the world? Michael believed it would.
And, you know, another central theme of this book is the idea that we are all connected to each other and to the planet, and we explored this aspect of Dancing the Dream in detail during our discussion of The Force a couple of weeks ago. But there is another theme that runs throughout the book that I find just as compelling as the first two we’ve touched on – spirituality. He touches on it in several poems and essays throughout the book. But there are two that really stand out for me. The first is “God” and the other is “Two Birds.”
In “God,” he addresses the topic of spirituality head on when he says,
“It’s strange that God doesn’t mind expressing Himself / Herself in all the religions of the world, while people still cling to the notion that their way is the only right way. Whatever you try to say about God, someone will take offense, even if you say everyone’s love of God is right for them.”
I think this is such a brutally honest statement. So simple and yet, so true. And it says so much about our collective view of God and spirituality. Basically, it is a very personal choice and none of us has a right to condemn anyone else if their views of God are different from our own. But yet, this happens over and over again in our society and in every culture in the world. And I think including this essay in his book was a very courageous thing for him to do.
In “Two Birds” he goes about it in a much more subtle way as he writes a love poem to his soul. He says,
“Two birds sit in a tree. One eats cherries, while the other looks on. Two birds fly through the air. One’s song drops like crystal from the sky while the other keeps silent. Two birds wheel in the sun. One catches the light on its silver feathers, while the other spreads wings of invisibility.
It’s easy to guess which bird I am, but they’ll never find you….
Sweet bird, my soul, your silence is so precious. How long will it be before the world hears your song in mine?
Oh, that is a day I hunger for!”
Willa: This is such an interesting image to me, Joie. We see him wrestling with the idea of his public and private selves throughout his work, but he presents it in such a different way here – as two birds. One has a physical presence: it eats, it sings, it reflects light from its feathers. The other does not: it doesn’t eat, it doesn’t sing, and sunlight passes through its invisible wings. One bird – his public self – is easily seen. The other – his private self, his “soul” – is much more difficult to perceive. But he yearns for the day when both are recognized: when “the world hears your song in mine.” That is such a lovely image, especially the suggestion that his music – the invisible bird’s “song” – is the expression of his soul.
Joie: I agree.
Willa: He builds on this idea in “A Child is a Song,” and expands it to encompass us all:
“Even if you have never written a song, your life is a song. … To live is to be musical, starting with the blood dancing in your veins. Everything living has its rhythm. To feel each one, softly and attentively, brings out its music.
Do you feel your music?
Children do, but once we grow up, life becomes a burden and a chore, and the music grows fainter. …
When I begin to feel a little tired or burdened, children revive me. I turn to them for life, for new music. Two brown eyes look at me so deeply, so innocently, and inside I murmur, ‘This child is a song.’ It is so true and direct … I am back to myself once more.”
Joie: Willa, I love when he says, “To live is to be musical.” Something about that phrase is very lyrical and poetic to me. How many people would think about the very blood flowing through our bodies as being musical? I find that fascinating!
You know, we’ve talked about all the different themes of this book – the idea that we are all connected, the belief that we must strive to know and accept who we are, and the theme of spirituality. And he connects each of these themes with love. The various expressions of love and passion that you mentioned earlier – creative passion, sexual passion, spiritual passion, compassion. All various forms of love. But it strikes me that there is one form of love that is not really a central theme of this book. Romantic love.
Now, that’s not to say it’s completely absent; he does touch on it, but only twice. First in an essay called “The Last Tear,” and then again in “I, You, We.”
In the first, he describes a horrible fight between two lovers that leaves one of them shouting, “Get out! These are the last tears I’ll ever cry for you.” And in his heartbreak, he waits and waits for her to return, all the while crying tears of frustration, tears of loneliness and tears of despair. But suddenly, he has one thought of love and everything changes. He says,
“How strange that all these tears could not wash away the hurt! Then one thought of love pierced my bitterness. I remembered you in the sunlight, with a smile as sweet as May wine. A tear of gratitude started to fall, and miraculously, you were back.”
Then in “I, You, We,” he says,
“How I love this mystery called We! … We must be love’s favorite child, because until I reach out for you, We is not even there. It arrives on the wings of tenderness; it speaks through our silent understanding. When I laugh at myself, it smiles. When I forgive you, it dances in jubilation. … We is not a choice anymore, not if you and I want to grow with one another. … The truth is that you and I would have given up long ago, but We won’t let us. It’s too wise.”
I find it really interesting that in the only two works where he touches on romantic love, he is describing how to either repair that love when it cracks or how to keep it intact in the first place.
Willa: Well, depending on how you interpret his words, romantic love does appear other places. For example, I think he touches on it in “Courage.” That may sound like an unlikely title for an essay on love, but for me it’s the most romantic of all because he’s talking about “the courage to be intimate.” As you quoted earlier, Joie, “When you have the courage to be intimate, you know who you are, and you’re willing to let others see that.”
Joie: That’s interesting, Willa. I’ve never really thought about “Courage” as being romantic but I suppose I can understand since he is talking about having the courage to be emotionally intimate with someone else. And, just like with his songs and his short films, his poems and essays can have multiple interpretations as well so, I think that makes perfect sense.
Willa: You’re right, it can be interpreted different ways, and actually, I think it’s too limiting to read “Courage” as applying only to romantic love. The need for the “courage to be intimate” is certainly true of romantic relationships, but it’s true of other relationships as well – in fact, of all genuine human relationships. In many ways, I see this “courage to be intimate” – to “know who you are, and … let others see that” – as the central idea of Dancing the Dream.
You know, Joie, Michael Jackson is such a miracle of fire and ice to me – so gentle and yet so strong. In his work I see an exquisite sensitivity, but in his life I see an incredible strength. Over and over again he withstood trials no one should have to face. He walked through one firestorm after another. He’s so sensitive and gentle; yet so strong. That seems so contradictory – like fire and ice – but they coexisted in him. How is that possible? I think the key to that mystery is written in this book.
Joie: I agree with you completely, Willa. He really was very contradictory at times. Such innocent, child-like wonder juxtaposed with such a worldly, intelligent maturity. So painfully shy around strangers but yet, such a commanding presence when on stage.
Willa: That’s true. Many different contradictions coexist within him.
So the Michael Jackson Academia Project just released a new two-part video on the HIStory album, and we thought we’d conclude by sharing them. Here’s Chapter One:
And here’s Chapter Two: