As far back as I can remember, I have always been a fan of great dancing. I remember getting up early on Saturdays to watch the old black and white musicals (this was before Ted Turner gobbled them up for his Turner Classic Movies channel.) My brothers and I would stare in awe as we watched Fred Astaire tap dance his away around a room. His technique, his flow, his grace - it was technical and artistic perfection. To this day, whenever I catch a clip of Astaire dancing, I have to drop everything and watch. It doesn't matter that I've seen the clip a million times. Astaire had the extra something else that other dancers didn't have. He just moved a little differently and a little better.
There is something mesmerizing about watching someone who can move their bodies in such and rhythmic and deliberate way. I may know next to nothing about dancing, but even I can appreciate something so unique and beautiful to watch. For me, it was like listening to Pavarotti. I am not a fan of opera per se, and I never really understood what he sang, but when that man opened his mouth and hit a big note, something inside of me was deeply moved.
Another performer that was visually fascinating to watch was Elvis Presley. When "the Pelvis" would gyrate his hips and pump his knees to the rock n roll beat, it was so unique that you could not help but stare at him as he did his thing. Surely, this was on a completely different level than Astaire, but I found myself fascinated in the same manner. The way Presley would move different body parts rhythmically to the song's beat seemed unreal. He was not a dancer in the classical sense, but I think it is fair to say that he would not have generated as much excitement with rock n roll if just stood there and sang. His style of dancing was the perfect complement to the music he was putting forth. In other words, his body was just as an important instrument to his performance along with his voice and guitar.
From Astaire to Presley, we finally arrive at Michael Jackson. Jackson's life defining moment came when he sang, danced, and moonwalked into people's lives on the show celebrating Motown Records 25th anniversary in the music business. Go find a clip of this performance on a site like YouTube if you have not seen it a while. While the moonwalk may be the performance's signature move, take a look at the entire performance that Jackson did. Jackson combined hip thrusting, knee pumping, and everything else he learned about dancing into a performance that to me was the next evolutionary step from Presley. There are moments in the performance where Jackson appears to be gliding on air. The choreography of the number was so well thought out and executed that many people consider this to be the best performance in television history (as far as music and dance is concerned.)
Michael Jackson was a dancer. He was a prodigy and a master of many things musical, but to me, he was a dancer first. And, he was amazing. He was Astaire and Presley in the same package plus a whole lot more. In that single performance on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, Michael Jackson became an instant pop icon. He would move like no one else. There were a lot of MJ impersonators after that special was broadcast, and there are a lot of good dancers out there, but for my money, these people couldn't had a candle to MJ. In fact, whenever I see someone do the Billie Jean number from that show, it just isn't the same. Sure, these people can move, and they hit all the steps and poses, but something is just ... missing. In fact, if I were to compare their performances with MJ's, I would say that these other people are dancing just a little fast. Look at Jackson's performance. His dancing is very deliberately paced to the song ‘Billie Jean.' It was probably the best dancing that Jackson ever did. In fact, it can be argued that he never really was able to attain that same level of performance again, as future performances of ‘Billie Jean' seemed like a MJ impersonator executing the same dance steps. It was indeed an once-in-a-lifetime moment.
So, rest in peace, Moonwalker. As a fan of great dancing, I thank you for giving me and the rest of the world some of the best dancing we will ever see.