On March 25, 1983, Michael Jackson took one small, backwards step onto a television stage, and one giant leap into dance floor history. The pop star was only 24 years old when he took a break-dancing move and transformed it into one of the most recognizable routines of all time: the moonwalk. Jackson debuted the moonwalk during his performance of “Billie Jean” during the ABC television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever and due the heavy rotation of the video on MTV, it was injected it into America’s pop cultural consciousness. The moonwalk is so fluid, so effortless, that Michael looked like he was floating whenever he did it.
I never knew how Michael Jackson came up with the moonwalk, but I found an old article in TIME Magazine from 1983 which explained how the King of Pop came up with his famous move and even better, instructions on how to do it (in your socks for maximum sliding effect). When done correctly, the dance will produce the illusion of walking forward while actually moving back.
The origins of the Moonwalk can be traced back to urban life and French mime Marcel Marceau’s “Walking Against the Wind” trick, in which he pretended to be pushed backwards by an imaginary gust of wind. Jackson, who praised Marceau for appearing to defy the laws of gravity, once said the move of going backwards while appearing to go forwards was based on dance moves by children in Harlem at the end of the 70s and beginning of the 80s.
“There was a mutual admiration between Michael Jackson and Marcel Marceau,” Elena Serra, who worked with the king of mime for 20 years, told AFP. “Marceau said of Michael Jackson that he was a born mime artist, which was also what he’d said of Charlie Chaplin, because of his easy physical movement, his ability to decompose movements, his understanding. I think Marceau was impressed by him.”
Marceau, who died aged 84 in 2007 and was extremely popular with US audiences, “would often recount how Michael Jackson used to go see him perform when he was around 13 or 14. He told him once backstage that the inspiration behind the moonwalk was Marceau’s Walking against the Wind.”
In 1995, Jackson and Marceau filmed a joint mime routine but their plan to work together never materialized due to Jackson’s health problems.