Our KOOL Artist of the Week is Michael Jackson. Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of his death.
Michael did not invent the Moonwalk,” but he did immortalize it. I’ll tell you where they think it started in a minute.
The moonwalk, or, backslide, is a dance technique that presents the illusion of the dancer being pulled backwards while attempting to walk forward. A popping move, it became popular around the world after Michael Jackson executed the dance move during a performance of “Billie Jean” on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever on March 25, 1983. It subsequently became his signature move, and is now one of the best-known dance techniques in the world.
Guess where it started? Well, first, watch this video, it is pretty fun – first Michael, then, everybody else doin’ the Moonwalk.
The first recorded instances of the moonwalk, similar steps are reported as far back as 1932, used by Cab Calloway. The origin is the pantomime exercise “Marche sur place” created by mime masters Etienne Decroux and Jean-Louis Barrault and first recorded on film for Children of Paradise in 1944/45. In 1955 it was recorded in a performance by tap dancer Bill Bailey. He performs a tap routine, and at the end, backslides into the wings. The French mime artist Marcel Marceau used it throughout his career (from the 1940s through the 1980s), as part of the drama of his mime routines. In Marceau’s famous “Walking Against the Wind” routine Marceau pretends to be pushed backwards by a gust of wind.
James Brown used the move, for instance in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers. David Bowie was probably the first rock musician to perform it, though he remained stationary.
An embryonic version of the move appears in Bowie’s 1960s mime pieces; he had studied mime under Étienne Decroux, Marcel Marceau’s teacher, and under Lindsay Kemp, who had trained with Marceau. By the time of Bowie’s 1974 Diamond Dogs Tour, Michael Jackson was among those attending Bowie’s Los Angeles shows, later remarking on Bowie’s strange moves.
Another early moonwalker was popper and singer Jeffrey Daniel, who moonwalked in a performance of Shalamar’s “A Night To Remember” on Top of the Pops in the UK in 1982, and was known to perform backslides in public performances (including weekly Soul Train episodes) as far back as 1974. Also in 1982, Debbie Allen performs a moonwalk during a scene with Gwen Verdon in Season 1, Episode 10 (“Come One, Come All”) of the 1982 TV series Fame. There is a similar dance to the moonwalk as well. It is known today as the ‘airwalk.’