Moonwalk (dance)

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Michael Jackson, the popularizer of the move, performing the moonwalk publicly for the first time in 1983.

The moonwalk or backslide is a dance move in which the performer glides backwards but their body actions suggest forward motion.[1] The moonwalk is a popping move. It became popular around the world following Michael Jackson's moonwalk during the performance of "Billie Jean" on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, which was broadcast on May 16, 1983, and he included it in tours and live performances.[2] Jackson has been credited as renaming the "backslide" to the moonwalk and it became his signature move.[3][4][5]


The moonwalk

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 sliding 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 moonwalking to appear to glide forward, sideways, or even in a circle.



There are many recorded instances of the moonwalk; similar steps are reported as far back as 1932, used by Cab Calloway.[6] In 1985, Calloway said that the move was called "The Buzz" when he and others performed it in the 1930s.[7][8]


In 1943, Bill Bailey performed the first backslide on screen in the movie The Cabin in the Sky. This dance move most closely resembles the renamed moonwalk. In 1944, Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien portrayed something similar to the move in their performance of "Under the Bamboo Tree" in Meet Me in St. Louis, though their performance lacks the illusion created by the genuine moonwalk.[9]

1950s and 1960s[edit]

In 1958, on the Pat Boone Show, 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".

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.[10] 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 "Walking Against the Wind" routine, he pretends to be pushed backwards by a gust of wind.[11]

In 1958, Mexican dancer-comedian Adalberto Martinez "Resortes" also performed the moonwalk in the film Colegio de Verano ("Summer School").

In 1965, David Ruffin performed the moonwalk while singing "My Girl" on American Bandstand.

In a November 1969 episode of H.R. Pufnstuf, Judy the Frog teaches everyone a new dance called "The Moonwalk", which includes two instances of a stationary moonwalk.[12]


In 1972, Lucie Arnaz in Here's Lucy Episode 9 of Season 5 "Lucy and Jim Bailey" Lucie does the moonwalk while singing "Fever" with Jim Bailey

Choreographer Bob Fosse moonwalks in his role as the Snake in the 1974 film The Little Prince.[13]

In the late 1970s, the long-running African-American TV dance show Soul Train featured a dance troupe called "The Electric Boogaloos" which routinely performed popping and locking dance moves including the moonwalk.[14]

It has also a been acknowledged that the professional wrestlers Michael "Pure Sexy" Hayes, Terry Gordy, and Buddy Roberts started doing the moonwalk as their trademark ring entrance by 1979 when they formed a wrestling stable known as The Fabulous Freebirds.[15]


James Brown used the move.[16]

In 1980, in the music video for their single "One Step Ahead" by New Zealand rock band Split Enz, keyboardist Eddie Rayner is seen performing a predecessor of the moonwalk, and Nigel Griggs (former bassist for Split Enz) allegedly taught him how to perform it.

In 1981, in the promotional single and music video "Crosseyed and Painless" by new wave band Talking Heads, authentic street dancers, picked by David Byrne, are featuring, including Stephen "Skeeter Rabbit" Nichols doing the moonwalk.[17]

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[18] 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.

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 TV series Fame.[19]

In Flashdance, 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".[20]

In the 1984 movie Streets of Fire, actor and performer Stoney Jackson executed a moonwalk as the leader of a fictional group, The Sorels, who lip-synced to the Dan Hartman song "I Can Dream About You". The movie was filmed in the northern spring of 1983, also predating the iconic Michael Jackson moonwalk.

Michael Jackson and the moonwalk[edit]

In 1983, Michael Jackson performed the moonwalk during a performance of "Billie Jean" on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever which made it a global sensation.

Jeffrey Daniel taught Michael Jackson the moonwalk. Jackson saw Daniel do the moonwalk dance on Soul Train and had his manager call Soul Train to introduce him to the dancer. Daniel was touring with Shalamar at the time so Derek Cooley Jackson and Caszper Candidate went to teach Jackson. However, Jackson, who later became known as Cooley Jaxson,[21] was not able to pick up and master the technique until Daniel returned from tour and worked with him.[citation needed] Michael Jackson first performed the dance in public on March 25, 1983,[22] in front of a live audience at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. The dance became world famous two months later when Jackson performed it during a television special, Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. Dressed in his signature black trousers, silver socks, silver shirt, black-sequined jacket, rhinestoned glove, and black fedora, Jackson spun around, posed, and began moonwalking. Music critic Ian Inglis later wrote that Jackson encapsulated a long tradition of African-American dance movements in that one performance.[16] 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 been known for using the moonwalk in his National Hockey League career.[23] He performed the move after scoring a goal on February 7, 2001, and on January 3, 2010. Kovalev moonwalked onto the ice after being named one of the stars of the game and again after scoring in a 2008 celebrity charity soccer game. In 2009, R&B singer The-Dream teamed up with Kanye West to create the Synthpop-R&B record "Walkin' on the Moon", in which The-Dream includes a Jackson-inspired high note. The music video does not feature the moonwalk, though it plays on the premise with a CGI moon background and a simple 2-step by the singer to give the impression he is "walkin' on the moon."[24]


In 2012, Carly Rae Jepsen briefly used the moonwalk in her music video for "Call Me Maybe".

In 2017, Jason Derulo briefly used the moonwalk in his song "Swalla".

In 2018, Alessia Cara briefly used the moonwalk in the music video for her song "Trust My Lonely."[25]

In 2019, street dancer Salif Gueye performed the moonwalk in David Guetta's music video for the song "Stay (Don't Go Away)"[26]

In 2019, Chinese boy group WayV released a song called "天选之城 (Moonwalk)". The moonwalk is featured in the music video.[27]

In Sound Stage of Super Mario Party, Waluigi's victory scene shows performing a move that resembles the Moonwalk.


In 2020, the band Puscifer briefly features the moonwalk in their video "Apocalyptical" and it is also mentioned in the song's lyrics.


  1. ^ Banes, Sally. Writing Dancing in the Age of Postmodernism, Wesleyan University Press, 1994, p. 139.
  2. ^ "Michael Jackson 1958-2009. TIME looks back on the King of Pop's life and Career", Time, p. 13, archived from the original on February 11, 2010, 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].
  3. ^ Suddath, Claire. "How to Moonwalk like Michael", Time, June 25, 2009.
  4. ^ Thriller 25: The Book, ML Publishing Group Ltd, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9768891-9-9.
  5. ^ Catton, Pia. "How Michael Jackson Changed Dance History". Biography. Retrieved 2019-06-06.
  6. ^ Pagett, Matt. The Best Dance Moves in the World - Ever! Chronicle Books, 2008, p. 72.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Cab Calloway in 1932 film "The Big Broadcast". YouTube.
  9. ^ "Under The Bamboo Tree - Judy Garland (Meet Me In St. Louis)". YouTube. 2017-04-01. Retrieved 2019-12-07.
  10. ^ "Bill Bailey - 1955 Moonwalk" – via Internet Archive.
  11. ^ "Grand master of mime, Marcel Marceau, dies". CBC News. Associated Press. 23 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-23.
  12. ^ "Did Jacko Jack the Moonwalk?". Archived from the original on 2014-02-22. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
  13. ^ "sssssSnake in the Grasssss". Retrieved September 11, 2008.
  14. ^ "Mix - The Lockers & Electric Boogaloo (Soul Train 25th Anniversary) 1976, 1979, 1995". YouTube. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  15. ^ Greg Oliver and Steve Johnson (2005). "Top 20: 7 The Fabulous Freebirds". The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams. ECW Press. pp. 46–51. ISBN 978-1-55022-683-6.
  16. ^ a b Inglis, Ian. Performance and popular music, Ashgate Publishing, 2006, p. 122.
  17. ^ "Talking Heads - Crosseyed and Painless - Official Original Video, 1981". Retrieved August 5, 2011.
  18. ^ "A Night to Remember, Shalamar, Top of the Pops, 1982". Retrieved October 25, 2012.
  19. ^ "Fame: Season 1 Episode 10 - "Evolution of Dance" Original Air Date: March 11th 1982". 2006-09-29. Retrieved 2014-06-18.
  20. ^ Buffalo Gals (first 12 seconds sample) at YouTube
  21. ^ "Cooley Jackson biography". Internet Movie Database. IMDb. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  22. ^ Effron, Lauren; Welsh, Susan. "How Michael Jackson learned to 'moonwalk'". ABC news. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  23. ^ "Youtube "Alex Kovalev Moonwalk on ice"". Retrieved 2014-01-15.
  24. ^ "The-Dream - Walkin' On The Moon ft. Kanye West - YouTube".
  25. ^ AlessiaCaraVEVO (2018-10-04), Alessia Cara - Trust My Lonely, retrieved 2018-11-14
  26. ^ David Guetta feat Raye - Stay (Don't Go Away) (Official Video), retrieved 2019-12-19
  27. ^ "WayV 威神V '天选之城 (Moonwalk)' MV - YouTube".