The moonwalk 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. This special was broadcast May 16, 1983 It subsequently became his signature move.
An illusion is involved in creating the appearance of the dancer gliding backwards. Initially, the front foot is held flat on the ground, while the back foot is in a tiptoe position. The flat front foot remains on the ground but is slid lightly and smoothly backward past the tip-toe back foot. What is now the front foot is lowered flat, while the back foot is raised into the tiptoe position. These steps are repeated over and over creating the illusion that the dancer is being pulled backwards by an unseen force while trying to walk forward. Variations of this move allow the moon walking to also appear to glide forwards, sideways, and even in a circle.
History of use
There are many recorded instances of the moonwalk, similar steps are reported as far back as 1932, used by Cab Calloway. In 1985, Calloway said that the move was called "The Buzz" when he and others performed it in the 1930s. 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.
In the 1950s, Dick Van Dyke performed a similar variation of the moonwalk and camel walk in his comedy routine called "Mailing A Letter On A Windy Corner". Mexican dancer/comedian Adalberto Martinez "Resortes" also performed the moonwalk during his shows.
Ronnie Hawkins was probably the first rock musician to perform the move, during an after-school show. David Bowie also performed 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" (which was choreographed by Toni Basil), Michael Jackson was among those attending Bowie's Los Angeles shows, later remarking on Bowie's strange moves.
James Brown used the move, and can be seen performing it in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers. 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. Michael Jackson was a fan of Jeffrey Daniel's dancing and would eventually seek him out.
In the movie Flashdance, released in 1983, the move was used in the B-Boy scene, where Rock Steady Crew's Mr. Freeze (Marc Lemberger) with an umbrella prop, mimed the wind blowing him backward as he first walks forward, fighting the wind, then starts moonwalking backwards. Mr. Freeze's version was also shown in the first Hip Hop movie "Wild Style" and Malcolm McLaren film clip "Buffalo Gals".
The dance was brought to further public attention in 1983, the King of Pop Michael Jackson performed it during a television special, Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever on March 25 that year. Dressed in his signature black trousers, silver socks, silver shirt, black-sequined jacket, single sequined glove, and black fedora, Jackson spun around, posed, and began moonwalking backwards (normal direction). Ian Inglis writes that Jackson encapsulated a long tradition of African-American dance movements in that one performance. The audience cheered Michael's moonwalk. Moonwalking received widespread attention, and from then on, the moonwalk became Jackson's signature move for his song "Billie Jean". Nelson George said that Jackson's rendition "combined Jackie Wilson's athleticism with James Brown's camel walk". Michael Jackson's autobiography was titled Moonwalk, and he also starred in a 1988 film titled Moonwalker.
Alexei Kovalev has also been known for using the moonwalk in his NHL career. He performed the move after scoring a goal on February 7, 2001 and on January 3, 2010. Kovalev moonwalked on to the ice after being named one of the stars of the game and again after scoring on a penalty kick in a 2008 celebrity charity soccer game.
- Banes, Sally. Writing Dancing in the Age of Postmodernism, Wesleyan University Press, 1994, p. 139.
- Remembering Michael, Jeffrey Daniel, "Michael Jackson 1958-2009. TIME looks back on the King of Pop's life and Career", Time: 13, retrieved February 1, 2012, "We first worked with him in 1980, but he did not do the moonwalk publicly until 1983 [on Motown's 25th-anniversary TV special]."
- Suddath, Claire. "How to Moonwalk like Michael", Time, June 25, 2009.
- Thriller 25: The Book, ML Publishing Group Ltd, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9768891-9-9.
- Pagett, Matt. The Best Dance Moves in the World - Ever! Chronicle Books, 2008, p. 72.
- DiLorenzo, Kris (April 1985). "The Arts. Dance: Michael Jackson did not invent the Moonwalk". The Crisis 92 (4): 143. ISSN 0011-1422. "Shoot ... We did that back in the '30s! Only it was called The Buzz back then."
-  Video of Cab Calloway in 1932 film "The Big Broadcast"
- Video of Bill Bailey in 1955
- Associated Press (23 September 2007). "Grand master of mime, Marcel Marceau, dies". CBC News. Retrieved 2007-09-23.
- "Did Jacko Jack the Moonwalk?".
-  Televised performance (1959) by Ronnie Hawkins
- Video of "Aladdin Sane" (1974) by David Bowie
- Dalhousie French Studies, Dalhousie University, 1994, p. 116.
- The Complete David Bowie, 2002. ISBN 1-903111-40-4
- Inglis, Ian. Performance and popular music, Ashgate Publishing, 2006, p. 122.
- A Night to Remember, Shalamar, Top of the Pops, 1982, YouTube, accessed October 25, 2012.
- Fame: Season 1 Episode 10 - "Evolution of Dance" Original Air Date: March 11th 1982
- Buffalo Gals (first 12 seconds sample) at YouTube