He’s a Dancing Machine

Joie:  Willa, last week we talked about the Ghosts short film and that got me thinking about the dance sequence in that video. You know, for so many years, Michael’s name has been synonymous with dance, and he has long been recognized as one of the greatest dancers of our time. I believe we would have to search long and hard to find someone – anyone – who would take issue with that statement. Even people who don’t consider themselves to be fans seem to have no trouble admitting that. In fact, he was the first figure from the world of rock and roll to be inducted into the prestigious National Dance Hall of Fame in 2010.

Willa:  Really? How do you know all this, Joie? You’re just amazing. But no, I didn’t know about that. That is impressive.

Joie:  Yeah, it is really impressive. Especially since the honor is usually reserved for classically trained dancers from the world of ballet and modern dance. The list of inductees includes names like George Balanchine, Martha Graham and Bronislava Nijinska as well as Fred Astaire and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

I think one of the reasons so many people acknowledge his dance talent is because he always used his short films to showcase that amazing ability, and I really love the big dance sequence in the Ghosts short film. Even though it’s the storyline and the dialogue that really drive this video, the dance sequence, to me, is really just as important. From the very beginning where he introduces the invading villagers to his “family” of ghosts, to the very menacing charge against the Mayor, to the almost angelic conclusion where the ghosts float from the ceiling in reverence. I think it’s one of the most complex dance sequences we’ve ever seen in a Michael Jackson video and I love how he used the background music to sort of shift the mood of the dance throughout – from lighthearted circus-feel entertainment, to very threatening, to almost ethereal. It’s just so much fun to sit and watch; I love to pop in this video and really immerse myself in it.

Willa:  Oh, I agree! The dance sequences are fascinating and you’re right – they really propel us through a wide range of emotions. I wish I knew more about dance so I could be more aware of what’s happening and have a better understanding of what he’s doing and why. He had three choreographers, including Travis Payne, working with him and the other dancers on this movie, but the credits say, “All Dance Sequences Conceived and Staged by Michael Jackson.” And you can definitely feel his guiding vision in these dance sequences – they embody through physical movement some of the central themes of the film. And that first dance, with all those ghosts and ghouls dancing behind him, feels so different from any other dance sequence he ever did.

You know, he really liked to develop each dance so that it precisely fit what he was trying to convey in that particular piece. In a 1999 MTV interview, he described how he and Michael Peters choreographed the big dance sequence with the zombies in Thriller:

“It was a delicate thing to work on,” he says, because zombies move in such a stiff, unnatural way – they clomp around on their undead legs and can scarcely walk. As he says, “I remember my original approach was, How do you make zombies and monsters dance without it being comical?” He approached that problem by imaginatively putting himself in the body of a zombie and working through it that way. As he says, “I got in the room with Michael Peters, and he and I together kind of imagined how these zombies should move.”

And they solved the problem brilliantly. When you watch the big dance sequence in Thriller, it feels so right you don’t even think about how difficult it must have been to choreograph a dance for undead legs. He and the other zombies really move, so it’s fun to watch, but there are some distinctive gestures that vividly convey the idea that these are rigid, corpse-like bodies.

Joie:  And, you know, it’s not something that most people would think about. But asking the question, “how do you make zombies dance without it being comical,” is really what made him such a brilliant talent – that attention to detail is incredible. He approached everything he did with that same obsessive attention to detail. It’s really astounding to think about! I just love when he says that he would even go so far as to show up for rehearsals with Michael Peters wearing monster makeup in order to get into character, to make it easier to envision just how these undead creatures would move and dance. That dedication to detail is key.

Willa:  I agree. I think it’s subtle details like that, along with the ability to imaginatively put yourself in the emotional and physical space of your character, that sets apart great dancers, great actors, great artists. I remember reading an article one time about Baryshnikov when he was very young. He was dancing the role of a toy, I think it was, who comes to life, but he was acting listless on stage. His instructor stopped the music and asked if there was something wrong, and he said no, he just hadn’t come to life yet. I love that! He was dragging around on stage because he was completely immersed in that role and imagining what it would be like to inhabit a wooden mechanical body and not yet have a living body. How would your arms and legs move if they weren’t alive yet?

Michael Jackson had that same imaginative capacity to genuinely inhabit a character and move in a way that suggested he really was a zombie or a gangster or a mayor forced to dance against his will. He describes dancing as the Mayor in “The Making of Ghosts,” about 6½ minutes in:

Joie:  You know what I love about that clip, Willa, is the fact that, even though he is being interviewed about his new video, he stays completely in character because of all the makeup and conducts the interview as the Mayor – with the voice, the attitude and everything! So funny.

Willa:  I love that too! And then he starts to jerk and move, and it really feels like something inside him is yanking his muscles and compelling him to dance. And then he really gets into it and starts to groove, but there’s still that resistance the Mayor has to the dance. It’s just amazing to hear him talk through what’s happening as he does it, and so fun to watch him pull it off.

I see something similar but a little more complicated happening in the big dance sequence in Ghosts. He’s creating a dance that’s appropriate for these characters – for ghosts and ghouls – but he’s also creating a dance that carries out an important thematic function by evoking the grotesque. He suggests the grotesque in many different ways throughout Ghosts:  in the contortions of his face when he first confronts the villagers, in the laughing fool with his jingling three-pointed hat, in the irreverent ghouls who challenge the Mayor, in the upside-down dancing on the ceiling. And he also evokes it through the dance steps themselves. There’s lots of splayed legs, and these skittery spider-like jumps and sidewinder movements that we’ve never seen him do before.

Joie:  You’re right, there are lots of really different, menacing, even almost sinister moves in this one. In Thriller, even though they were portraying dancing undead zombies, the feel of the dance was still sort of lighthearted, soft-horror. But in Ghosts, the entire dance sequence feels much darker and more frightening because of the unique choreography.

Willa:  I hadn’t thought about that, but it is kind of unsettling, isn’t it, just because it is so different from any dance I can think of. I don’t remember ever seeing a dancer move their body in quite that way before. And you know, while you see people from around the world doing so many distinctive Michael Jackson dance moves, you don’t see them doing those splayed-leg movements from Ghosts. I’ve never seen those moves outside this film, and maybe that’s also because they are so unnervingly different.

There is so much going on in this film, and in the dance sequences, and there are some subtle gestures that really jump out at me in interesting ways. For example, he begins the first dance sequence by calling up all these ghouls to dance with him and then wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. He uses that same gesture in Bad after calling up the imaginary gang members/artists to back him up in the big dance sequence there. And the Macaulay Culkin character does the same thing in the intro to Black or White, just before blasting the electric guitar so loud he sends his father flying back to Africa and the origins of music and dance.

That small gesture seems to carry the same meaning in all three cases. In all three, a rather powerless solitary figure is confronted with the threat of violence, and in all three he stands up to that threat and counters it with art: with music and dance. It’s almost like Michael Jackson is creating his own vocabulary of gesture, so when we see him wipe his mouth with the back of his hand in Ghosts, we feel the echoes of those prior films and kind of know what’s coming.

Joie:  “His own vocabulary of gesture.” I like that!

Willa:  You know what I mean, right? It’s just so fascinating to me what he’s doing – how he uses subtle gestures like that to signify a very specific concept, but in an unspoken way. He does something similar to begin the skeleton dance. As we were talking about last week, the villagers have very conflicted feelings about the Maestro – they aren’t sure if they can trust him or not – so he reflects that back at them by making himself unfamiliar, a skeleton, but then dances in a very fun, familiar way that draws them to him.

Interestingly, he begins the skeleton dance by jerking up his right shoulder – and that is exactly how he began the zombie dance in Thriller. And he’s dealing with a similar situation in both films. In Thriller, he’s addressing people’s very conflicted feelings about him as our first black teen idol. The United States was and is a racist country with oppressive taboos against inter-racial relationships – especially in the early 1980s when Thriller was made – and suddenly millions of teenage girls of all races were fainting at his concerts and affirming that he was sexually desirable. So he was really challenging those taboos, and a lot of people felt very unsettled about that. He responded to those conflicted emotions just as he does in Ghosts: he makes himself unfamiliar – a zombie – so he reflects those emotions back at us, but then dances in a way that’s unmistakably Michael Jackson and draws us in to him.

Joie:  Ok, you have officially blown me away here! I never made that connection between the skeleton dance in Ghosts and the zombie dance in Thriller before. But you are right; he does begin both dances the exact same way, in order to remind us that he is still the same person. Wow!

Willa:  Isn’t it fascinating? He just knocks me out, over and over again – he’s just breathtakingly brilliant. Every time I experience his work, I feel awed by it all over again.

Joie:  Willa, that is a statement that I think so many of us can agree with. It never fails to astound me that, no matter how many times I listen to his music or watch one of his short films or watch a concert performance, I always discover something new that I had never heard or experienced before. It’s just amazing to me.

Willa:  Oh, I know!  And it’s so interesting to me how he conveyed meaning through so many different avenues simultaneously. For example, he conveys so much through that gesture of jerking up his right shoulder or wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, and importantly, those gestures are nonverbal. I wonder if that’s one reason his work was so popular around the world – because even if you didn’t speak English and couldn’t understand the lyrics, you could still understand the central ideas because he was able to convey meaning in so many other ways.

And he didn’t just use gesture to convey concepts and emotions. He used them to convey personality details as well that brought his characters vividly to life. In a wonderful comment Nina posted a couple weeks ago, she describes how he was able to “sketch a character” through a few subtle gestures:

As some of the most skilled artist/draftspeople could sketch a character in an attitude or pose with just a few simple lines – so that we become privy to an essence the figure’s demeanor and personality – Michael could perform such a character “sketch” through movement alone. It’s gestural economy at its finest … you can recognize the “character” at once.

Nina goes on to say,

he can strike the attitude of a louche sort of fellow who runs a comb through his hair in “Billie Jean,” a gangster in “Smooth Criminal,” and a different [gangster] in “You Rock My World,” and so on. Each of these characters is composed of a few basic elements that are familiar throughout his repertoire. But these elements are rearranged and sequenced in a different way for each “number,” with variations throughout. It’s no wonder that, as a mime, he’d been going to perform with Marcel Marceau. And in film study, we’d consider Michael’s distinctive style that runs throughout his body of work the mark of an “auteur.”

Nina’s descriptions of his “gestural economy” are so interesting, and I absolutely agree about his ability to “sketch a character … with just a few simple lines,” so the “essence” of that character comes to life for us. So in Ghosts, for example, he isn’t just performing the dance of a generic Mayor forced to move against his will. He’s performing as a Mayor with a distinctive personality and specific desires and biases and beliefs, including a desperate need to be in control at all times. And those individualizing characteristics are conveyed to us through simple gestures, such as that abrupt gesture with his hands when his body begins to move. He’s losing control of his legs and then his hips as his body begins to dance, but he’s trying to reassure the villagers that he’s still in control – of the situation, of the Maestro, of them, of his own body.

Joie:  Willa, I love the comment you used from Nina. I agree with what she says about the “elements being rearranged and sequenced in a different way for each number.” This is really true and we can see this in various performances throughout his career. One of my absolute favorites is the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards performance. His entire opening number is incredible. He performs a medley of “Don’t Stop,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Scream,” “Beat It,” “Black or White,” and “Billie Jean,” with a little help from his friend, Slash.

But it’s the full-length rendition of “Dangerous” that really makes this performance something special. He’s not even singing live here but, you quickly forgive and forget about it because the dance is so spectacular! Even now, nearly 20 years later, I can’t watch it without getting goosebumps. The way he moves is just so totally beyond anyone else; it’s like he’s made of rubber. His body bends and twists and moves in ways that regular people’s just don’t. There have been, and I’m sure there will continue to be, many imitators but, the simple fact is that nobody else moves like that! Slash once made this observation:

 “The thing about Michael is he’s hands down one of the most professional, most talented performers I have ever worked with. All the brouhaha aside, when it comes down to it, you can have 60 choreographed dancers up there and you know which one Michael is.”  

I just love this quote because Slash is absolutely right; you can always pick Michael out when he’s on stage with other singers and dancers. He just moves differently than anyone else. And I especially love that this quote came from Slash – someone you wouldn’t normally think would pay attention to the dancing, you know?

Willa:  And what he says is absolutely true. When Michael Jackson is dancing with a group, you simply can’t take your eyes off him. Even in the group dance in The Way You Make Me Feel when all you can see are silhouettes of the dancers, you know which one is him and you can’t help watching him.

And of course, he also received praise from professionals who do pay close attention to dancing – people like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Debbie Allen, and Michael Flatley, as Jacksonaktak noted in a comment a couple months ago. I love this quote she cited from Baryshnikov, saying,

What Baryshnikov remembers most about Jackson, he said, was “… his simple, bouncy walk across the stage, that was what was most beautiful and arresting, swinging his hips, kicking his heel forward. That’s to me what he is: that superior confidence in his body as a dancer. You wanted to say, ‘Wow, this guy, what a cat; he can really move in his own way.’”

As soon as I read this, I could picture that “simple, bouncy walk” so well. I love that walk, and it’s so distinctively Michael Jackson. We see snippets of it throughout the MTV medley you love so much, Joie. He also performs it as the skeleton in Ghosts, and even as a skeleton, it is so distinctively him. It’s just so joyful and carefree, and as Baryshnikov says, it reflects “that superior confidence in his body as a dancer.”

Joie:  Yeah, that is a great quote from Baryshnikov and, you’re right. He did receive a lot of praise from many in the dance community. From the highly acclaimed and regarded all the way to the neophyte just trying to catch a break – like all those young dancers at the beginning of the This Is It film. You know, during an interview on The Making of Thriller, Michael Peters talks about how Michael had never taken a formal dance lesson in his life and yet, there he was in the dance rehearsals with all of these classically trained dancers who had been studying dance for years, and he was not simply holding his own with them, but he was actually out-dancing them. “It’s just something you’re born with,” Peters said. “It’s just in him.”

About Dancing with the Elephant contributors

Joie Collins is a founding member of the Michael Jackson Fan Club (MJFC). She has written extensively for MJFC, helping to create the original website back in 1999 and overseeing both the News and History sections of the website. Over the years she conducted numerous interviews on behalf of MJFC and also directed correspondence for the club. She also had the great fortune to be a guest at Neverland. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was three years old. Lisha McDuff is a classically trained professional musician who for 30 years made her living as a flutist, performing in orchestras and for major theatrical touring productions. Her passion for popular musicology led her to temporarily leave the orchestra pit and in June 2013 she received a Master’s degree in Popular Music Studies from the University of Liverpool. She’s continuing her studies at McMaster University, where she is working on a major research project about Michael Jackson, with Susan Fast as her director. Willa Stillwater is the author of M Poetica: Michael Jackson's Art of Connection and Defiance and "Rereading Michael Jackson," an article that summarizes some of the central ideas of M Poetica. She has a Ph.D. in English literature, and her doctoral research focused on the ways in which cultural narratives (such as racism) are made real for us by being "written" on our bodies. She sees this concept as an important element of Michael Jackson's work, part of what he called social conditioning. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was nine years old.

Posted on April 18, 2012, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the focus of MJ’s dancing. I read in Joe Vogel’s book a quote by music critic Neil McCormick: “Jackson was a dancer at heart and his vocal prowess expressed itself playfully within and around the rhythm” (10). We also heard from his collaborators that when he was happy with the way the music sounded, he would be dancing all over the studio.

    About that ‘bouncy walk’–so great to highlight it. Here is a youtube vid that focuses on it–the music is a cover of BeeGees’ ‘Stayin’ Alive’–the walk is so full of aliveness and vibrancy that the song seems appropriate (even if it isn’t MJ’s music).

    • Here’s another mashup of MJ’s ‘bouncy walk’– it’s amazing how Michael could totally inhabit a walk and make it into a signature dance step–

      • thanks Aldebaran for posting this video. Just watched it again and it is brilliant – so clever of someone to get Michael’s steps to match the music – how he inspires us hey?

        • Hi, Caro, yes, it is an amazing montage of some of my favorite clips (I love the quick, shifting hip movements in the The Way You Make Me Feel–how did MJ DO that?), and you’re right, it does match the music so well. People do such wonderful, gifted, inspired work on youtube. Thanks for your reply!

  2. Aw, THE Swagger!

    Here are three gifs:

    • Oh wow, a “bouncy walk” fest! How fabulous! Thank you so much, Suzy and Aldebaran. This is great!

      btw, Suzy, I couldn’t get the middle link to work, but maybe it’s just my computer …

  3. There’s a line in a song in Yentl that goes ‘like slaves his eyes follow everywhere she goes”. Well my eyes are like that for Michael. I have tried soooooo many times to watch what is going on around and behind him, but my eyes just keep going back to the maestro!! He does indeed stand out in the crowd, even of professional dancers who are often younger than him. I also L.O.V.E. the MTV Dangerous performance – it is sheer perfection – a lean, mean dancing machine – what more can one say. Even from the first time I saw This Is It, my favorite part was when he walks across the stage during They Don’t Care About Us – I could not explain why but there is just something about that walk, and now I see that I am not alone!! Poetry in motion is all!!! Also in the MTV Will You Be There when he walks across the stage in front of the car – phew Thank you again for this wonderful blog, and thanks to others who put in the videos. I spend a lot of time looking at MJ videos on Youtube, but there is no way I can get to them all, or even know about them all, so am really grateful for other postings here.

  4. Caro, I TOTALLY agree- and what a great idea to cite that line from Yentl- you are absolutely correct. I never could and still cannot NOT look at Michael (forgive the double negative). That just got into my way when watching Immortal as my eyes got stuck to the screen watching Michael in JAM, and totally forgetting the amazing performers live on stage. 🙂

    Aldebaran- thank you for the clips- I always love to read your comments on here! I can stare for hours at Michael’s walk.

    Willa and Joie- amazing post, as always! Another Thursday morning pleasure (it made me forget I wasn’t feeling well…thank you).

    The dance in Ghosts has always taken my breath away. It bursts out at the observer like gushing water held back by an invincible seeming damn, totally sweeping anything away in the deluge of passion. When I watch the short film by myself, I often rewind the different sequences- but especially that first one.

    Thank you for the information you provide- I had forgotten the induction into the Dance Hall of Fame… what an accomplishment. Also, brilliant analysis of the parallel function of certain gestures! It reminded me of the tortured outcry of “Lord, I’m the same” in Stranger in Moscow… I believe it was deeply disturbing to Michael that, after being elevated in his status, his art and craft honored, he was then derided, ridiculed, persecuted…when he knew he had not changed. Of course, his art developed, but he was the same person- and yet people saw and treated him so differently. You are amazing to point out that he conveys that confusion of being seen as a “freak” and monster when he is just the same Michael the world had fallen in love with.

    Also, thanks for citing Nina’s comment- she was dead on! Michael was able to give us a short sketch of a character and conveyed it perfectly with a few strokes. Like watching a gifted painter develop a visual piece in minutes appear before our eyes, filling us with all the emotions and thoughts belonging to the object conveyed. I think Michael had an uncanny ability to tap into Jungian archetypes in both his dance and his music and lyric, then fill them slightly with his very own symbolic language, making them uniquely his, while leaving them familiar enough so people all over the world could instantly relate.

    As for the 95 performance- I have seen it so many times, and it takes my breath away every single time. As you said, the fact the performance was not sung live did not even matter. One became simply lost, transported all over the universe, then returned in some sort of breathless and euphoric stage watching Michael.

    Beside the dancing- the way he works that stage when he talks and when he walks (every time I watch, I wonder how he did not fall over the cables of the camera…).

    This was what hurt so much during 2005….to watch that amazing walk wilt away for a while in the progression of the trial. The strain and the anguish are reflected in his face…and in the way he moved. The bounce was taken for a while- when I saw it again years later, I am not sure why I was so relieved then, but reading this piece and thinking about it makes it clear. He had survived and he had found that swagger again. A unique artist using his instrument, his body, to the fullest in a way no one ever has. Dancing, singing machine with unmatched heart and soul.

    Thank you- till next week!

    • Thanks, Birgit E, for your beautiful post–I always love to read your comments, too!!

      You are so right when you write “He had survived and he had found that swagger again.” In the clip showing his walk to his O2 Press conference, you can see it in all its glory (in 1st clip above). One of the collaborators on ‘This Is It’ who had worked with him before remarked that MJ seemed to have lost confidence, and people were trying to help him regain it. This is sad, but I think he did get his swagger back!

      I love your description of the dance in ‘Ghosts’–

      “The dance in Ghosts has always taken my breath away. It bursts out at the observer like gushing water held back by an invincible seeming damn, totally sweeping anything away in the deluge of passion.”

      YES!! The dance builds slowly, with the slow steps forward, and then burst out, as you say, like water gushing from a dam–it is MJ’s RESPONSE to the Mayor’s insults (and the world’s). I love the fire in ‘2 Bad’–‘I’m standing though you’re kicking me!’

      It is interesting that Katherine first noticed MJ as a toddler dancing to the rhythm of the old rickety washing machine–his body felt the BEAT. What knocks me out about his dancing is his grace–yes, the economy of gesture (thanks, Nina!) and the gracefulness. We are so blessed.

      • Just want to add that when MJ says to the Mayor–‘Meet the family’– and summons the ghosts–his gestures (and words) are so full of power and fire (even fury). The way he stands–just that–he conveys so much just standing. The way he gestures to the ghosts, who appear to his summons. This is remarkable. It reminds me of Milton’s ‘Comus,’ and the Hindu god Shiva accompanied by his retinue of ghosts. Michael’s power here displayed is AMAZING.

  5. You are all so right. Watching This Is It, it was obvious that the other dancers were hard-training, highly talented professionals, but all eyes were on Michael. There was such an economy in his movements, every one of them right, nothing less, nothing more. While the others dance to the music, he becomes the music. They dance on the outside, on the rim, but he is always dead-center. It’s a complete melding of his mind/body–of his whole being–with the music and thus with the whole universe. Kind of reminds me of the Amadeus film, where the emperor criticizes Mozart’s latest work by saying, “It has too many notes,” and he looks bewildered and answers something like, “it has exactly the right amount of notes, not one more or one less.” Here’s where their genius comes in. Somehow, they were given an additional dimension and immersed themselves in it. When I think of Michael now, I feel him totally immersed in the Music, in perpetual ecstacy. It’s where he was before he was born, where he belongs.

    • “When I think of Michael now, I feel him totally immersed in the Music, in perpetual ecstacy. It’s where he was before he was born, where he belongs.”

      This is a beautiful thought, Kris. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. ultravioletrae

    I think it was Grace who said a few weeks back that after watching “This Is It” 75 x, she was thinking of watching it again out of curiosity to see if someone else might be in the movie other than MJ! I agree, I’ve actually tried to watch the dancers in Smooth Criminal, it’s no easy feat. I’ll keep trying.

    Here’s my favorite bouncy walk, what a magnificent thing! http://youtu.be/zWID2IKTgTk

    I like to watch the Lombard Twins tribute to MJ at the Dance Hall of Fame without sound. It’s amazing to see all that choreography back to back, you can recognize it even without the music telling you what it is. I don’t know why this video didn’t go viral a long time ago: http://youtu.be/2AGRyhws21A

    Amazing post, as always, Willa and Joie!

    • Ultravioletrae, thank you so much for sharing that video of the Lombard Twins’ tribute at the Dance Hall of Fame ceremony. I love this video and I agree with you that it really should have gone viral. I just love how the Twins didn’t miss a single piece of that iconic choreography – all the videos/performances were represented and it just served to remind us of why he was so great and exactly why he was chosen for induction into this prestigious Hall of Fame. Wonderful clip!

  7. Too funny you should mention that video, ultravioletrae- I watched it this morning- it was amazing!

  8. Dear Willa and Joie,

    My heartfelt gratitude for your profound, concise and factual analysis of Michael’s Dance. The fact that you quote giants like Baryshnikov speaks alone for itself.
    I personally believe that Michael Jackson is supreme in “Will You be There”, the choreography consisting of gospel, contemporary and personal dance moves all performed with great plasticity. In fact, gazing at his performance from various vantage points, this deeply moving work of art can be diversely interpreted, various levels of meaning come to mind.

  9. Thanks again for the wonderful post and thanks to all the links in the comments. I guess I’ll be getting my Michael fix this weekend.

  10. I have been thinking about my favourite moves of Michaels since reading this blog, and wanted to list my favourite 5, but just as I can’t narrow down my 5 favourite songs, I can’t do the same with his dance moves, so here are my favourite 10. Would love to hear other peoples’ favourites as well. These are not in order of preference, just as I thought of them.

    Kind of walking/marching across the stage in They Don’t Care About Us – This is It

    Bowing to Judith during I Just Can’t Stop Loving You – This Is It

    Walking across the stage and up a couple of steps in Will You Be There – MTV Music Awards

    Pulling down jacket, brushing off shoulder, putting hand in pocket and clicking fingers of the other – MTV Music Awards, Dangerous routine.

    Moonwalk in Billie Jean, Bucharest concert – best ever performance of Moonwalk I think

    Taking off glasses and blowing kiss to crowd in Teaser in Budapest

    Turning and smiling with hair over eyes on the stage while singing You Are Not Alone – short movie on MJ’s Vision

    Taking a pose with hand under elbow of raised arm and moving slightly forward to look in opposite direction on stage – Stranger in Moscow, History Tour

    Lightening flashing through his body and coming out of his hands – Give In To Me, short movie

    Gravity-defining lean forward – Smooth Criminal, any version

    • @caro,

      Those were all great, but I’m going old school, as they say. There are some REALLY great moves from the Triumph Tour that are on the 20/20 interview. The dancing in Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough is great.

  11. Hi, Willa, Joie, and Everyone,

    Today is Earth Day and I found this beautiful video on Youtube–it’s Michael reading his poem “Planet Earth”–This video is deeply moving and a tribute to Michael’s love for the Planet. (I know it’s off topic but I couldn’t help myself.)

    • am soooo glad you found this and am sharing it, especially today. It is wonderful, and as many people as possible should hear it. I found it some time ago and have This Is It double cd, where he recites it on the 2nd cd. I don’t know how to put videos onto blogs like this, so am so glad when other people do it. thank you very much.

    • Aldebaran, Thank you so much for this. I had never seen it.

  12. Thanks, Caro, and Happy Earth Day!

  13. @Willa—I just finished your book M Poetica. I think it’s wonderful. It should be read by every serious Michael Jackson fans and by everyone else who is curious about this great artist and his works. I loved all of it and was especially taken with the analysis of Ben, Ghost, Earth Song, Trickster, and Smooth Criminal. Actually, it’s hard to pick a favorite with so much to admire. I definitely want a print-copy to put on my special Michael Jackson bookcase alongside every other bit of positive information that has come out about him. Please let me know when the print-book becomes available. From one English major to another, I admire all the care you’ve put into your manuscript. It was interesting for me to read that you did your dissertation on coming-of-age novels, as three of my novels are just that. I love that fresh point-of-view. In fact, my fourth, VOID, is the only one of my books that is written from the perspective of an adult—but then, to paraphrase your words, VOID is about the task of rewriting our shared narratives, which is why I gave the minimally disguised part of the “emperor of song,” i.e. Michael Jackson, such a prominent role. I was determined to reshape his story and our own. I always look forward to your weekly discussions with Joie. Your combined blog is timely and a real treat, making Thursday morning my favorite time of the week. I appreciate both of your unique interpretations of Michael’s work.

  14. Willa and Joie and all commenters, Again it is so wonderful to read your insights into MJ and his work. He is the music; he is the dance. As someone mentioned in a previous discussion, he is kundalini energy. He is the life force. Thank you so much for this blog.

  15. P.S. @Willa–I just finished reading your end-notes in M Poetica. I thoroughly enjoyed them.

  16. i miss you michael on this sad june 25 th day i love you ill never forget you

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