Michael Jackson was an incredible singer. But he also became famous for his electrifying dance moves. His rare combination of talents catapulted him into an exclusive club of singer-songwriter billionaires.
The artist’s most famous dance move is the moonwalk, something he said took him a long time to perfect. After much practice, he was able to appear as though he was walking forwards, even as his body shifted backwards.
After revealing the moonwalk, the move became an instant sensation. Everybody wanted to do it but it was notoriously hard. The optical illusion required both impeccable timing and extreme strength and coordination to pull off.
But was MJ the first person to ever use the moonwalk? Or was it something already being taught in dance classes?
The History Of The Moonwalk
While Michael Jackson was the first artist to popularise the moonwalk, it turns out that people were already doing something similar to it off camera, called the “backslide.”
The backslide was similar to the moonwalk, except the idea was to slide backwards while making it seem like you were walking forwards.
The first public display of the backslide was on a 1980s TV show called Soul Train. Here three artists, one of which founded the band Shalamar, demonstrated the moonwalk maneuver on TV. They then subsequently taught it to Michael Jackson who became famous for popularising it.
According to Derek Jaxson, one of the backslide’s creators, the idea is to make yourself look as though you’re walking forwards, even though your body is moving backwards. You want to make it look as though you are walking along an airport travelator in the wrong direction, but, of course, without relying on the moving floor beneath you to create the illusion.
But, according to its creators, the moonwalk is actually something different. It requires a circular motion, Jaxson says. So the idea is to move your feet and legs in a circular motion to make it look as though you’re taking steps, when, in fact, the motion makes you walk backwards. Thus, it’s a slightly different move.
When the trio introduced the backslide to MJ, he immediately began practising it. He told the trio that he “could feel it” but that it wasn’t quite right. Legend has it that Jackson spent the following weeks attempting to perfect the slide to create the perfect move. And it was many weeks before he felt it possible to reveal it to the public at large.
The result was his version of the backslide called the moonwalk. This move seemed to allow Jackson to almost float on air, bringing an otherworldly quality to his dance performances.
So, in summary, it appears that Michael Jackson did what all great artists do. He took a concept created by somebody else and then found a way to master it and make it even better. The backslide is a cool move, to be sure, but it doesn’t compare to the moonwalk’s legendary status right at the top of pop dance.