Michael Jackson, the dancer

A really thoughtful analysis in the NY Times. Here’s just an excerpt, but I highly recommend you read the whole thing:

There are few popular dancers today who keep drawing your attention to footwork: He was always one of them. Here in “Billie Jean” he turns the feet in and out; he raises right and left feet in alternation; he isolates the action of one leg and then the other; he goes rhythmically knock-kneed: It’s riveting. Later, when he jumps and stamps, those moves are dance effects, always part of the rhythm. And meanwhile, until late in the song, he never stops mouthing the lyrics. He’s always intense, and still occasionally vulnerable. The spring he can get out of those feet is very exciting: you can see how much impetus he gets out of them — turning in and out, they sometimes propel him backward — which is just a foretaste of what’s to follow.

Clip below the jump of Michael Jackson performing “Billie Jean” in 1983 at Motown 25. I remember seeing that show. I remember everyone talking about the moonwalk at school the next day, gobsmacked, “did you see that??” – people trying it in the corner of the cafeteria. Hard to imagine yourself back into that time, what with who Michael Jackson eventually became, not to imagine how much the moonwalk is imitated, mocked, whatever. But it is an electrifying performance – if you just watch what the hell he is doing with his body, in every second.

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11 Responses to Michael Jackson, the dancer

  1. Emily says:

    These videos are everywhere right now. Yesterday, someone linked to one for “Smooth Criminal.” It was typical Michael Jackson – so dramatic and overblown. A HUGE production with a cast of hundreds. It wasn’t just a music video. It was a story. His videos had plots. Sometimes it’s easy to forget while there’s so much going on, but I watched “Smooth Criminal” yesterday and really, for the first time, just totally sat in awe at how that guy could MOVE.

  2. rossi says:

    ya know i get that michael jackson was a genious
    but all this hooplah over him now
    feels just as gross as it did when elvis died
    folks forgot how much everyone was bashing elvis
    in the dark last years of his life
    they made fun of him
    printed photos of him bloated
    and fat
    called him a loser drug addict
    then he died and was sainted
    same thing with jackson
    where were all these fans
    last week?

    and on the too much of a good thing scale
    the wondrous nyc gay pride parade
    got like 35 seconds of news coverage
    and farrah fawcett was like obliterated
    iran news obliterated
    in jackson news frenzy
    maybe the news not giving proper coverage to gay pride
    is something they would do anyway
    but enough
    i say enough

  3. Jen W. says:

    It’s unbelievable that he has that talent so naturally…no classes, no instruction. It just comes out of him. And, he sings live at the same time. Wow.

  4. red says:

    rossi – I don’t know. He’s a major worldwide star. It’s a huge story. You may have a problem with the story itself, and I guess I relate to that – There are many huge stories that I wish didn’t get tons of play – and there are things that matter to me that nobody else has even heard of -but you know, that’s part of life.

    Michael Jackson is (was) one of the biggest stars in the world, for better or ill, and it’s just the way of the world that everything else in terms of news needs to get out of the damn way. That’s the way it’s always been.

    To think that a gay pride parade (which I heard was awesome – heard the Chicago one was great, too) would ever somehow compete with the death of Michael jackson? I’m sorry, what? NOTHING will compete with that.

    I wish Billy Mays had got more than just a nod in the obits – but it wasn’t really possible because Michael jackson took up all the space, but that’s also the great thing about blogs: There are TONS of tributes out there to Farrah, to Billy Mays. That gives me great comfort – because we are NOT relying on mainstream publications to reflect who WE are and what matters to us.

    And there are a ton of heartfelt memories and tributes to Farrah out there right now – on my favorite blogs – not to mention columns in newspapers – and it’s been great to go around and read them – really lovely stuff.

  5. red says:

    Emily – yeah, some of these old clips are amazing! I always liked his earlier stuff – or, not early-early – like jackson 5 (although I loved that too) – but riiiiight as he was on the cusp of that massive Thriller change.

    There was something raw about him – and I can totally see why Fred Astaire would pick him out of a crowd as the one to watch, in dance terms.

    Also, and this is just me: but isn’t this Billie Jean clip SO campy??? Like – it’s totally Liza Minnelli in Cabaret – with white gloves to match – and the effect is truly strange, at times. But the performance is so over the top you don’t stop to ask yourself the question, “what the hell is he singing about?”

    Sheer FORCE of performance.

    Alex posted a link on Friday to a performance he did in Bucharest of Man in the mirror – it is seriously one of the most generous and sustained blasts of adrenaline and energy I think I’ve ever seen – That dude was all OVER the place, and he even managed to make jumping up and down in place look thrilling.

  6. red says:

    Rossi – Now, if you were upset about the Natalee Holloway story or the Laci Petersen story, I would understand that. To me, those were LOCAL stories, and had no business being on the national stage.

    But the death of Michael Jackson?? Come on now!

  7. JessicaR says:

    I love how everyone has a different favorite video and song, it’s wonderfully revealing to read about people’s picks. For me I keep watching the Bad video over and over. The beat, the moves, it’s like at any moment he and the cast are going to take off on air.

  8. red says:

    Jessica – I know, right? My personal favorite of his dance moments is the unedited version of Black or White – the one that he was forced to recut because it “scared the children”. Where he dances, a capella – on top of a car – and finally trashes the car and then turns into a black panther. It is some of the most magnificent dancing (emotion turned into movement) I’ve ever seen. And the fact that he was forced to apologize for it – and then put out a milder version – I think goes a long way towards describing the dichotomy of Michael Jackson.

    The public seemed to like him benign. They thought him weird, of course – that kiss with Lisa Presley – I mean, come on, who was he kidding – and the face and the surgery and all that … but as long as he remained benign and friendly he would be accepted.

    A Michael Jackson in a rage was not acceptable. I thought his rage (wherever it came from) was not only a valid response to things – but a powerful source of his art (or, at least, it COULD have been). That’s the only time I ever really saw him tap into it – and it is some amazing stuff.

  9. red says:

    Oh – and later on – they digitally added the grafitti and the swastika to sort of justify why he would smash windows, etc.

    That also completely wrecks the ambiguous message of that original video – which was basically just Michael Jackson – acting out – going nuts. Like he needs a specific socially acceptable REASON to be in a rage.

    It was a shame – I felt glad to see the original. It was something else.

  10. Dave E. says:

    The original “Billie Jean” video was a thing of wonder that pretty much smashed through my white boy rock-and-roll shell at the time. My thoughts now about Michael Jackson are a bit conflicted, or complicated, but back then he was both a genius and a force of nature.

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