I remember growing up how I gazed in amazement when I saw Michael Jackson doing this move. Every time I tried to do it, I felt I could never do it justice, my feet would always find it hard to slide back properly.
To this day, I think Michael Jackson is one of the greatest dancers of all time! Do you know why? It is because he had so many dance influences, from Gene Kelly to James Brown. As Jackson said, “Study the greats and become greater.” And guess what, that famous “moonwalk” of his is not even his dance. I know, gasp!
I was watching “Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America,” and Jeffrey Daniel, a dancer on the famous TV show and one-third of the group Shalamar, talked about the moonwalk and how he influenced Jackson to do the dance.
At the 1:43 mark, you will see Daniel do the moonwalk or backslide, as it was called before. This video premiered a year before Jackson made the dance famous at Motown 25 in 1983. As seen with Daniel, the dance was a part of the breakdancing and popping dance technique. Actually, Jackson was a huge fan of Soul Train and learned the dance from Daniel.
However, Daniel did not invent the “moonwalk” either. Other musicians and dancers performed it as far back as the early 30s. Tap dancer, Bill Bailey, and Jazz bandleader, Cab Calloway, did the first recorded versions of it.
Bailey at 0:49
Though Jackson never claimed that he created the move, many people think he did because it became popular with him. This is probably due to a number of reasons: the magnitude of Jackson’s impact on pop culture, his smoother dancing skills and the slight invisibility that Black culture has within dominant culture. Many cultural phenomenon did not gain popularity till much later and usually with someone else who was more famous.
But, I still love Michael doing that move and I can do it now too!