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Moonwalk (dance)

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Michael Jackson performing the moonwalk for the first time in public during the performance of "Billie Jean" on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever

The moonwalk, or backslide, is a popping dance move in which the performer glides backwards but their body actions suggest forward motion.[1] It became popular around the world when Michael Jackson performed the move during the performance of "Billie Jean" on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, which was broadcast in 1983. He included the moonwalk 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


Early use[edit]

Holman (2004) identified early evidence for the moonwalk in a statement made by Arthur Marshall, who was an African American composer of ragtime music.[6] Marshall stated, "If a guy could really do it, he sometimes looked as if he was being towed around on ice skates. The performer moves forward without appearing to move his feet at all by manipulating his toes and heels rapidly."[6][7]

Holman also states: "A dance that appeared around the turn of the century in Black minstrel shows called Stepping on the Puppy’s Tail also had an amazing resemblance to the moon walk. Stepping on the Puppy’s Tail was described as moving each foot alternately backwards 'like a horse pawing the ground.'"[6]


There are many recorded instances of the moonwalk; similar steps are reported as far back as 1932, used by Cab Calloway and Charlie Chaplin.[8] In 1985, Calloway said that the move was called "The Buzz" when he and others performed it in the 1930s.[9][10]

The 1935 animated short film Dancing on the Moon, directed by Dave Fleischer and part of the Color Classics series of animated short films, contains a segment where the protagonist cat dances the moonwalk.


In 1943, Bill Bailey performed the first on-screen backslide in the movie The Cabin in the Sky. This dance move closely resembles what was later called the 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.[11]


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.[12] 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.[13]

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


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.[14]


On the April 9, 1970 episode of The Dick Cavett Show, Marcel Marceau demonstrated several kinds of "mime walks", one of which was a backslide. Cavett tried to do it himself but found it too difficult.

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

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.[15]

It has also been acknowledged that the professional wrestlers Michael "Purely 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.[16]


James Brown used the move.[17]

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.

The 1981 music video for "Crosseyed and Painless" by new wave band Talking Heads features authentic street dancers, including Stephen "Skeeter Rabbit" Nichols, doing the moonwalk.[18]

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[19] 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.[20]

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".[21]

Donnie Yen performs a moonwalk in the 1984 Hong Kong film Drunken Tai Chi.[22]

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.

Singer Bobby Brown of New Edition was the one of "three kids" Jackson said taught him the dance step in his autobiography, Moonwalk.[23] It had been rumored that Jeffrey Daniel taught Jackson the moonwalk, however, Daniel was touring with Shalamar at the time, so Jackson reached out to Soul Train dancer/employee Cheryl Song to arrange a meeting with dancer Geron "Caszper" Canidate. At this point, Ron Wiesner Jackson's management contacted Caszper to arrange private dance lessons for Jackson in June 1981. Caszper, who claims to have a copy of the check and original contract, spent one week privately instructing Jackson how to perform the moonwalk.[citation needed] Jackson first performed the dance in public on March 25, 1983 during the television special, Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever,[24] in front of a live audience at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. The dance became world-famous two months later when the show made its television premiere. Dressed in his signature black trousers, silver socks, silver shirt, black-sequined jacket, and rhinestoned glove, 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.[17] 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". Following the Motown 25 special, Jackson contacted Daniel to further master the technique once Daniel returned from tour.[citation needed]

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.[25] 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 synth-pop-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".[26]

In 2000, model Eli Swanson briefly performed a moonwalk in the music video for the Britney Spears' song "Oops!... I Did It Again".


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".[27]

In 2019, street dancer Salif Gueye performed the moonwalk in David Guetta's music video for the song "Stay (Don't Go Away)".[28]

In 2019, Chinese boy group WayV released a song called "天选之城 (Moonwalk)". The moonwalk is featured in the music video.[29]


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

In 2020, South-Korean boy band BTS performed the moonwalk briefly in the music video of their song "Dynamite".[30]


  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. Archived from the original on June 6, 2019. Retrieved June 6, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c Holman, Michael (2004). "Breaking: The History" (PDF). In Forman, Murray; Neal, Mark Anthony (eds.). That's the Joint! The Hip-Hop Studies Reader. Routledge. p. 33. doi:10.4324/9780203642191. ISBN 9780203642191. OCLC 55846132. S2CID 153628902.
  7. ^ Malone, Jacqui (1996). Steppin' on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance. University of Illinois Press. p. 55. ISBN 9780252065088.
  8. ^ Pagett, Matt. The Best Dance Moves in the World! Chronicle Books, 2008, p. 72.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Cab Calloway in 1932 film "The Big Broadcast". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 13, 2021.
  11. ^ "Under The Bamboo Tree - Judy Garland (Meet Me In St. Louis)". YouTube. April 1, 2017. Archived from the original on December 13, 2021. Retrieved December 7, 2019.
  12. ^ "Bill Bailey - 1955 Moonwalk" – via Internet Archive.
  13. ^ "Grand master of mime, Marcel Marceau, dies". CBC News. Associated Press. September 23, 2007. Archived from the original on September 17, 2020. Retrieved September 23, 2007.
  14. ^ "Did Jacko Jack the Moonwalk?". Archived from the original on February 22, 2014. Retrieved March 20, 2011.
  15. ^ "Mix - The Lockers & Electric Boogaloo (Soul Train 25th Anniversary) 1976, 1979, 1995". YouTube. Archived from the original on July 24, 2022. Retrieved June 10, 2019.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ a b Inglis, Ian. Performance and popular music, Ashgate Publishing, 2006, p. 122.
  18. ^ "Talking Heads - Crosseyed and Painless - Official Original Video, 1981". YouTube.com. Archived from the original on December 13, 2021. Retrieved August 5, 2011.
  19. ^ "A Night to Remember, Shalamar, Top of the Pops, 1982". YouTube.com. Archived from the original on December 13, 2021. Retrieved October 25, 2012.
  20. ^ "Fame: Season 1 Episode 10 - "Evolution of Dance" Original Air Date: March 11th 1982". YouTube.com. September 29, 2006. Archived from the original on December 13, 2021. Retrieved June 18, 2014.
  21. ^ Buffalo Gals Archived 2016-04-17 at the Wayback Machine (first 12 seconds sample) at YouTube
  22. ^ "Donnie Yen breakdance". Archived from the original on January 7, 2019. Retrieved July 23, 2022 – via www.youtube.com.
  23. ^ Paine, Jake. "Bobby Brown Claims He Taught Michael Jackson How To Moonwalk (Audio)". Ambrosia For Heads. AFH. Archived from the original on November 26, 2021. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  24. ^ Effron, Lauren; Welsh, Susan. "How Michael Jackson learned to 'moonwalk'". abcnews.go.com. ABC news. Archived from the original on September 2, 2018. Retrieved June 10, 2019.
  25. ^ "Youtube "Alex Kovalev Moonwalk on ice"". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 13, 2021. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  26. ^ "The-Dream - Walkin' On The Moon ft. Kanye West - YouTube". www.youtube.com. Archived from the original on December 13, 2021.
  27. ^ AlessiaCaraVEVO (October 4, 2018), Alessia Cara - Trust My Lonely, archived from the original on September 2, 2020, retrieved November 14, 2018
  28. ^ David Guetta feat Raye - Stay (Don't Go Away) (Official Video), archived from the original on December 13, 2021, retrieved December 19, 2019
  29. ^ "WayV 威神V '天选之城 (Moonwalk)' MV - YouTube". www.youtube.com. Archived from the original on December 13, 2021.
  30. ^ BTS (방탄소년단) 'Dynamite' Official MV, retrieved December 5, 2022