Remembering Michael Jackson (Part 4): Actually, A Total Freaking Dancing Machine

(The title of the post, for anyone who’s just come in via Google, is a reference to the previous instalment of this series.) Michael Jackson was always very open and reverential about who influenced him as a dancer, and I think it’s only fair that any showcase of his dancing begins with one of his major inspirations. Here are two clips of Michael and James Brown sharing the same stage, the first in 1983 and the second twenty years later, the latter notable also for Michael’s brief diversion from his script (very rare for him) into a simple, heartfelt expression of what James Brown meant to him.

Another influence I’m not sure many people know about is Marcel Marceau, and in this video of Michael dancing at home he incorporates a number of classic mime moves into his freestyling:

What else went into Michael Jackson’s dancing? If you thought you noticed elements of tap in the infamous Black or White panther dance, you were right. I always wanted to see him do more tapping, but due to being born too late to watch the Jacksons TV series, I had to wait until someone uploaded this full-on fabulous number to Youtube:

Of course, as James Brown pointed out in the first clip, Michael eventually transcended most of these influences in his own dancing’s blend of rippling smoothness with robotic precision. Like I said in the first post, what initially drew me to Michael Jackson was how he could transfix you even while dancing to very slow music. This compilation of various moves from his live performances of Stranger In Moscow during the HIStory tour is another example of how he could take a ballad and make it into a showstopping dance display:

The last little-known highlight I’d like to feature is the 1997 music video, Ghosts. To be honest the video itself is extremely hokey and best explained as a “because I can” project where Michael indulged various silly escapist fantasies he was evidently fond of. The downside of this is that the plot is embarrassing – suspicious townspeople helmed by mean mayor gang up on weird new guy in town who lives alone in a creepy mansion and likes entertaining their kids, weird new guy challenges mayor to a scare-off at which point a bunch of Renaissance Fayre ghouls materialize and join weird new guy in spectacular dance, weird new guy eventually wins scare-off after “possessing” the mayor’s body and making him boogie down comically against his will, mayor vamooses leaving a mayor-shaped hole in a glass window, and all is well…OR IS IT??!! The upside is that Michael is obviously having the time of his life, playing the mayor as well as himself, and helming dance sequences far more challenging than the one in Thriller.

You can watch the whole video if you want but don’t say I didn’t warn you about the hokeyness. I saved you some cringes by finding this version which just compiles all the dancing bits, including Michael’s rather excellent fatsuit-clad performance as the involuntarily funky old mayor:

(As an interesting aside, around 6.40 in this making-of video, you see Michael talking to the camera while dressed in his mayor costume. I mention it because I have rarely ever seen him speak with as much comfort and ease as he shows here, and I can only guess it’s because of the costume. He always loved being in disguise, perhaps because it made him feel somewhat freer from the confines of being Michael Jackson.)


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