Michael Jackson was a gifted, unique and outstanding dancer. His contribution to the art of dance is analyzed in this fascinating article by professional flamenco dancer and choreographer Amor (Lubov Fadeeva).
Michael Jackson in dance is a subject as vast as space. I can’t talk about it without touching on global issues of the art of dance, but I will try to bring it all together as much as possible – to gather all of the elements I see as facets of something larger, something whole, so we can try to see the entire picture.…
For me, dance is a global phenomenon, the most sacred and purest art, only matched perhaps by music, poetry, and fine art. The rest is derivative, like the branches of a large spreading tree grown from just one seed. Dance is pure inspiration born in the center of the Universe, expressible through numerous artistic forms and manifestations. Dance is visual music and non-corporeal emotion on a material level; it is spiritual energy creating all existence. This is how I have seen it since my childhood, in the form of feelings, and I will try to explain all this in words.
I remember how pleased, although not surprised, I was to see that Michael’s book was titled Dancing the Dream. Why did the title refer to dancing and not singing or music? I believe that wasn’t coincidental. Dance was special in Michael’s art – the deepest, most sincere, and most symbolic expression of his philosophy and artistic vision.
I shall approach this topic in a roundabout way, starting with a quotation from a book by Maurice Bejart, Un Instant dans la vie d’autrui (or Moments in a Stranger’s Life). Bejart is a French choreographer, and the greatest personality in the modern ballet. He is an innovator, a philosopher, and an acknowledged genius in the field of dance. It’s interesting that Bejart grew up in the family of a philosopher: his father headed a society of philosophical research and published a scientific journal. Thus, Bejart grew up in an environment where human thought was valued, and from childhood he was surrounded by books and scientific works. That’s why, when he became a dancer, his art and artistic approach reflected deep thought.
Bejart declared dance the art of the 20th Century. His ballet company, which consisted of highly respected professionals and achieved tremendous success, had exactly the same name: “Ballet du XXe siècle” or “Ballet of the 20th Century.” The brightest stars of the ballet world collaborated with Bejart.
One of the chapters in his book is titled, “Turning Dance into the Meaning of Your life.” Let me give you some extracts:
Dance was turned into a second-rate, decorative, and entertaining art. I mean dance in the West, of course. It is no mere coincidence that dance found itself in such a position in the West, because it was not just dance alone that was turned into a travesty here.
I have taken dance seriously because I believe dance is a religious phenomenon. It is also a social phenomenon, but first of all, dance is religious. When dance is considered as a rite, both sacred and human, it fulfills its function. But if turned into a form of amusement, it stops existing, leaving only fireworks, or a parade of uniform-clad girls, or electric pinball games – but not dance in its essence. Speaking about this in the 80s is like banging into an open door, but in the 50s that door was firmly locked.
In the name of God knows what taboo – some kind of fearful shame of the body, the carnal shell of “the soul” – Christianity rejected dance, while the same religion inspired the erection of cathedrals! Cut away from religion, which had made it alive, Western dance, convicted as “carnal,” hid away precisely into flesh: it became a branch of courteous ceremony. Away from religion, dance acquired good breeding in the worst meaning of the word.…
But where has the ritual gone? The need to receive the Sacrament in both dimensions: vertical and horizontal, sacred and social?
The appearance of Diaghilev with his Russian ballets in the beginning of the century was revolutionary. But this revolution was aesthetic. Meanwhile, the dance needed ethical revolution, but even aesthetic revolution was a big step forward! Great musicians, such as Stravinsky, finally began composing music for dancing. Great artists – Picasso, Derain, Braque – worked on stage designs and costumes. The world also saw incredible stage designer Leon Bakst.
The Western audience instinctively felt a great need for dance that hadn’t had its essence emasculated. Yearning for unity, youngsters search for new rituals in rock, pop music, or disco – and they are right. Each era has to create its own rituals. The rites of our parents have necrotized and lost meaning.
Novelty in dance is not an aesthetic problem anymore. We feel a much deeper need to address social matters and our perception of the world. We don’t need to tell dance anything – it has a lot to say!
I’m speaking from the heart. With each day, I’m becoming more and more certain that dance is the art of the 20th Century.…
A day has to come when everybody will be dancing.
Nature of Singularity
Since my childhood, dance has been a sort of religion for me, if not purely religion. Any art in essence performs the role of a cult, the role of a spiritual advisor, and other roles that bring it close to being a religion, to varying degrees for each art. But dance has a special role in this case. I wouldn’t want to cultivate the idea that dance must always convey something religious, but you have to consider that, historically, dance derived from religion. Its initial role was spiritual and sacred and not simply decorative, as Maurice Bejart rightly stated.
When people watch Michael Jackson in awe, a miracle happens. They experience a moment when dance offers them something exciting and incomparable. Practically everyone who seriously considers Michael’s dancing will surely note a certain mysterious, unique quality in this entertainer that makes his art inimitable. Thousands of people have learned many of Michael’s distinctive moves and steps, but no one can perform them exactly the way he does. That’s why all attempts to imitate him (even by professional dancers) are doomed to failure: any Jackson impersonator is a surrogate in the eyes of ardent Jackson fans.
To me, the legions of Michael Jackson impersonators imitating his dance moves are pure profanation. His bodily presence and emotional expression on stage cannot be copied. He is recognizable by the tiniest nuance, not to mention his one-of-a-kind energy. Even if a dancer can brilliantly perform the same dance elements, it’s impossible to copy Michael’s hand. In this regard, those impersonators who use Jackson’s style simply as a basis for their own variations and improvisations have an advantage. Their dancing always looks more interesting, alive, and skillful than an attempt to precisely replicate his movements, which is practically impossible in dancing. Jackson cannot be repeated, copied, or imitated – just like any famous dancer cannot be duplicated.
So what makes Michael unique? Why are there ongoing disputes, for example, that his dancing contains so many sexual moves yet they never make him look vulgar – a vulgarity that can be seen in so many other performers? Why are his contributions to the art of dance considered so invaluable that this pop star can be placed alongside the great masters of ballet or folk dancing?
First of all, I would say that the body and motor functions of every dancer are unique. There are some common features, but there are many specifics that can’t even be analyzed, just like it’s impossible to analyze every “dancing molecule” in a living human body. These minute details and particulars make the performing manner of each person his or her own. Some demonstrate less individuality, while others emit it from their first steps across the stage. That’s one reason no impersonator can ever copy or replace a brilliant dancer like Michael and look convincing for those who are well acquainted with Michael’s style.
It’s not just a matter of his personal singularity; it’s a matter of the singularity of every human. Science has invented cloning, but not even a clone can be a perfect copy of the original, just like twins are not identical people. So there is no way an existing person could become a clone of another person. Differences would arise at some stage, even if the impersonator were spiritually close to the original performer. Perfectly copying individual peculiarities within a dance to create the illusion of a match is a utopian venture.
Here I shall stop talking about uniqueness within nature and turn to my main topic, which I find more interesting: artistic uniqueness.
Let me return to the beginning of the conversation and say that, like any truly brilliant dancer, Michael stands out for his spiritual essence and spiritual approach to dancing. His dance reflects the very religious component mentioned earlier – not in the sense of expressing any religious doctrine or belief, but in the sense of his spiritual and emotional approach.
First, Michael is not just a performer. He is the creator of his dance. He doesn’t do something he simply learned by imitating a choreographer. Even when his dance is carefully choreographed, he remains the creator: his dance comes from within, not from other people, regardless of who he collaborated with during preparation.
Lots of choreographers and dancers participated in his projects, but the dance team and Michael are altogether different, although his dancers are always professional and excellent. Still, he invariably stands out, through both his manner of dancing and his inner feeling of the dance.
He dances in the flow of free creation. It should be noted that even the moves he performs on stage over and over again are not mechanically repeated like a stuck record. No, he can continue any of his dances by free improvisation at any moment. And it never looks out of sync with his personal style; instead, it opens new facets of his fathomless inner creator. This is what no impersonator can do. Only the creator of the dance can update and renew his dance naturally and improvise freely, and still be himself. No one else can plunge into his sacrament. This is his personal domain, just like every person has his or her own body and his or her own place on Earth.
Michael Jackson stands out among all stage performers of his generation and those that followed. It is often said that many pop entertainers draw on Michael because he created a standard. Still, many seem to draw on the wrong things. Michael was notable for his absolute belief in what he was doing. He always had a sincere and sparkling artistry, while contemporary pop performers mostly look like beautifully designed clockwork dolls and not charismatic entertainers.
I don’t know why this is so, but I suspect the trouble is not in a lack of talent but in the fact that the pop stage has once and for all taken to manufacturing an average glamour ideal. Mostly, these new “stars” create an impression of Barbie dolls: all of them pretty, all of them capable, but lacking passion… Nothing exciting is going on. There is nothing that can shock or surprise us anymore – all revolutions are past. That is the overall feeling. Honestly, it’s sad to see that they are deprived of a true, live creative process and consciously make a product of themselves. A product and not a creator, even a small one. It is strange that the industry keeps dictating this kind of taste and selecting this kind of material for its star factory. But after all, a genius is only a genius if it is rare.
The second, and perhaps the more interesting factor, is that fundamentally, Michael Jackson is not a pop figure. Yes, he worked within the framework of popular mass culture, but he didn’t belong to pop art on the basis of his mentality. I would even say this was his tragedy, of which he was not guilty, of course. The pop culture framework, on the one hand, allowed him to break all possible sales records and reach out to millions of people with simple and inspiring ideas. On the other hand, his talent was confined to that framework, so in the end, certain facets of his artistry didn’t fully manifest and went mostly unnoticed by the general public.
The image of a pop singer prevented some people from taking him seriously. This was unfortunate, and I’ll say it once again: it was not his fault. The blame lies with the narrow-mindedness of society. His figure had too many contradictions for people to perceive him adequately. He combined traits of antipodal conventional types ingrained in popular mythology, and this eventually brought harsh trials and a tragic end upon him.
In conclusion, I will say the obvious: being a genius, Michael wasn’t supposed to conform to any standards. As Niccolo Paganini said, “Talent is not loved, and genius is hated.” By the way, the lives of Paganini and Jackson had many parallels.
Shaman of the Great Stage
When Michael Jackson hit the stage, he danced in ecstasy. And it’s obvious to the spectator. All the best dancers and musicians enter a peculiar state of mind when they create. Art in its highest form is impossible without the ability to work with the subconscious, and without using altered states of awareness and intuition. Without this, it’s not art but simply cheap craft.
Let’s go back to the idea of the religiousness of dance. The first professional dancer on Earth was a shaman and a priest. He was the pioneer of many other arts as well. The dance was born of communication between a human being and the supreme forces and spirits of our ancestors. In essence, dance is a form of meditation, but not a passive one – it’s active. Rhythmic beats of tambourines or drums helped the early shaman fall into a trance, and helped co-participants of the ritual immerse into the same trance to some degree. The music was built on a clear rhythmic base because it kept the listeners enchanted. With the development of civilization, these bases were developing into new forms, but didn’t lose their initial meaning.
The same can be noted in the classic Indian temple dance, where the behavior of the dancer is calmer compared to that of the shaman and the moves are thoroughly learned and precisely executed, but the rhythmic base and meditative nature of the dance remain the same. It is important to note that in Indian mythology, the gods themselves were dancers. Therefore, dance had a highly spiritual role.
In Christian Europe, the situation was different. It’s true that many customs were integrated into Christian culture from paganism. The Christian design of holidays and rituals has historical roots in paganism and ancient times – symbols, attributes, and traditions were simply interpreted and presented in a new way. This was how the new world searched for compromise with the old world. Still, Christian culture rejected dance and excluded it from the church, designating it as a kind of fleshy decorative art – the kind Bejart mentioned in his book. In those times, with dance known to have African and Indian cultural influences, accepting dance into the church was out of the question. Dance had a certain spiritual influence, but it was confined to a secular framework.
As I said at the beginning, I see dance and music as sparks from the divine energy that rules the universe. Rhythm is something possessed by all of us: it’s in the beating of our hearts. If the heartbeat is arrhythmic, it is usually a sign of a serious disease. Musical rhythm helps us feel the harmony of the universe and feel better. Various rhythms create different moods, but each rhythm reflects our nature.
The quintessential manifestations of the rhythm in biological life of humans are sex and pregnancy. I hope I don’t need to explain about the former, but the latter is notable because it is our prenatal state that teaches us about syncopation, one of the most striking and mesmerizing of rhythmic phenomena. Syncopation occurs as a result of two hearts beating at a different pace – the mother’s more slowly than the child’s. That’s why syncopated rhythm has such a pacifying effect upon us. We’ve heard it from the moment we were conceived inside our mothers’ wombs.
It’s easy to see how the effects of shaman techniques and temple dancing carry over into modern popular performances. They have the same basic elements: a lively rhythm, an audience in a frenzy, and once again, the main character at the center is an ecstatic dancer.
Michael Jackson added one more important component: a spiritual message. The ecstasy of his performance is most striking during songs such as Man in the Mirror, where the goal is to encourage people to discover their own inner power for positive change. Even though it’s not a rite of a church or a cult, the framework remains the same: the most powerful emotional splash is aimed at changing one’s awareness and state of mind, as well as the surrounding reality. Such absolute belief in the power of art to change consciousness, and such complete devotion to the execution of his art can perform miracles with thousands of people. This is what sets Michael apart from other dancing entertainers.
It’s also notable that, in his art, Michael attempts to integrate dance and Christianity, and he achieves this by drawing on the culture of African Americans. For example, his song Will You Be There is a prayer, accompanied by a gospel choir. A gospel choir always moves during performances, but Michael went even further in his show and added a corps de ballet and a winged angel coming down to the stage from above. This is a church mystery translated into the language of spectacle, the language of the stage. Unlike Man in the Mirror, where deep emotion is demonstrated by a frenzied splash of energy, here we see an awed and tearful address to God – a pure religious ecstasy.
Thus, Michael’s art mixed traces of shamanism with direct manifestations of Christian humility. He combined multiple worlds within himself, and it’s hard to say which of those worlds he belonged to more. His art was secular, religious, and social at the same time. The only thing I am sure of is that his talents had an ancient nature that I might even call the gift of a shaman. Or call it the gift of a magician, if you prefer.
Michael had all these talents not by chance. He inherited these features from the African culture, and there was American Indian blood in him also. If his father’s story is true, one of Michael’s ancestors was an American Indian healer and shaman who was often remembered in the tales of the Jackson family grandfathers and great-grandfathers. And even if you don’t believe that thrilling story about the shaman ancestry, still it’s not surprising that Michael was a true dancing shaman on stage. The blood of African Americans and American Indians bore the same ancient roots: rhythm and spirituality of the dance were central to the culture of both. A hundred years ago, any American Indian could be called a mystic and a healer because it was an integral part of their everyday and spiritual life. Michael was a man of enormous spiritual potential, which he used to the fullest extent possible. Many of his own stories about himself as well as observations by people who knew him say as much.
The energy pouring out of him and shining in his eyes is a clear sign of a man possessing huge spiritual power. It left a lasting impression on people and made them feel like they were looking at an angel who fell on Earth; although in reality he was a human being of flesh and blood with many conflicting aspects to his personality. No doubt his numerous humanitarian activities and extensive altruism solidified his reputation as a saint, but it was his amazing energy that made him appear an otherworldly miracle to people.
Some are still surprised that a mere pop singer has been declared the greatest entertainer of our time. I can say that he, like no one else, is worthy of this title, for the true role of an entertainer is to pass divine ecstasy to people, to change their state of mind, to astound them with his own example, and to touch many hearts by finding dramatic artistic forms for achieving all of the above.
It’s not the voice or the technical mastery that makes an entertainer a miracle, nor is it following canons of good taste or belonging to an exalted genre. No, the miracle happens where there’s charisma and a skillfully designed performance bearing the maximal charge of spiritual energy. A true entertainer combines natural artistry, outstanding personality, passion, creativity, and devotion. No performer was able to embody all this to the same degree as Michael Jackson, with his distinctive originality.
We could argue about the artistic merit of his songs or technique, but no such critique would reflect the importance of his personality on the history of art: his individuality, the perfected and memorable image he created, and his creative and human charisma manifested in the exceptional love of his numerous fans.
Even scandals and mass media frenzy did not turn millions of people away from this miracle. And it’s not an abstract, thoughtless fanaticism at work here. Rather, this man totally gave himself up to the stage and the people, working until he could work no more, and distributing his energy. His devotion gave rise to the same devotion in return.
We must realize that advertising and promotion play no role in this. Advertising only works until you remain one on one with the audience. How long would you last if you were not capable of anything? Hence the endless line of short-lived bands and stars who shine only on the paper of long-gone posters. Michael had the skill to draw the attention of crowds, and he had this skill even in his early childhood when there was no advertising. And it’s another thing entirely when you can not only draw attention, but win the love of millions of viewers across the world – and not just the love of teenage girls, but the lifetime devotion of people of any age and generation.
Dark Side of the Moon
When speaking of shamanism in art – especially the art of dance – one can’t forget the dark side of the subject, which gives it yet another facet and new depth.
I’d like to give an example from a different culture. In the folk culture of Spain, specifically the art of flamenco, there’s a belief that is still taken quite seriously – the legend of the Duende. This notion is complicated and very important to this art form, but I’ll give just a brief description. According to legend, there is a spirit, the Duende, which descends upon the performer and enters his or her body while singing or dancing. It’s hard to call the Duende a good spirit. A sign of the Duende’s presence are emotions expressing fervent passion, even pain and anger. The flamenco was born out of a mixture of many cultures, including Gypsy, Arabian, as well as African – a culture so old that it’s hardly surprising to find shamanism ingrained in the ethos of its art.
So, the flamenco dancer lets the spirit in – that’s how he perceives self-expression. Whether we believe in the existence of the real Duende or not, the meaning of the legend is instructive. A certain force enters the dancer from the outside, just as shaman rituals often stipulated penetration of an evil spirit able to bring illnesses and cause damage to a person. The aim of the shaman was to come to terms with the spirit, pacify it, fight and overcome its evil effects, and ultimately achieve catharsis and spiritual renewal.
The heritage of those beliefs on stage stipulates that the power that suddenly enters flamenco dancers can torture them, make them suffer or cry, but they still fight against it. The dancer is not a passive figure in relation to the wild spirit. Instead, the dancer interacts with it, pouring out all accumulated emotions and achieving catharsis, opening himself or herself. In demonstration of heart-rending rage, the dancer pours out the pain that makes him suffer, fights it, and his final goal is positive, although the road towards it might be frightening and even cruel at times.
In this context, it’s interesting to consider black Africa and America, where frenzied dance aimed at achieving supreme spiritual goals played an equally important role. The first thing that comes to my mind is “Shango,” a dance piece staged by African American choreographer Katherine Dunham, where we see a ritual dance with the sacrifice of a chicken and an example of the type of ecstatic dance widespread in folk culture and black cults. Of course, it was just a stage version, but it illustrates the spirituality of ancient traditional forms of dance. Katherine Dunham consulted anthropologic research when creating these stage works.
The passion and frenzy of ritual dance illustrate the origin of expressive manifestations of emotion common for modern black culture. Once all this was a part of a mystical worldview. Dance was not a means to demonstrate a beautiful body, skills, or sexuality; it was communication with the world of mysterious spirits who directly participated in the lives of humans. Their emotional manifestations in dance were so wild because people danced not just for themselves but to communicate with the beyond. It is not always understandable for a modern person, but it is an organic part of the spiritual essence of dance as part of folklore.
I saw Black or White for the first time in its full version in the early 1990s, when the video had just been released. I wasn’t really interested in Michael Jackson at that time. I was very young and far from mass culture. My idols were representatives of “high” dance genres: great performers of ballet, flamenco, and other classic traditions.
However, the second half of Black or White, commonly called the panther dance, shocked me. I still believe it is one of Michael’s best dances – a pure torrent of aggressive passion, even if played for the camera on purpose. It is the kind of improvised dance that goes back to dance’s original source. It is an absolutely unique case in contemporary pop culture of true, passionate, and spiritual dance; it cannot be seen anywhere else in this sphere. In most instances all we see is gymnastics or vulgar hip swaying, while the elegant tap of dancers like Fred Astaire has become a thing of the past. Real, pure ecstasy is virtually absent from the pop stage.
After seeing the video I wanted to say, “Bravo, Michael!” even though I wasn’t a fan of his at the time. In just a few minutes this man, the only person in the pop sphere who possessed this primordial sincerity, did something vitally important that had not been done by any stage performer with international fame. He placed ecstatic improvisation in the spotlight, featuring it in the video that apparently had no relation to it and was built on positive themes such as boyish jokes and uniting nations. The contrast was striking and even wild, incomprehensible for the common viewer, causing wide controversy and even hostility. Perhaps such a contrast and the contradictory design of the short film were created by Michael intuitively. Perhaps he hoped that his stream of consciousness would once again shock the public.
If you look at the history of youth culture over the past 40 years, there’s nothing new in Michael’s behavior in this dance: objects were broken on stage and daring sexual movements were performed long before him. In fact, many rock musicians routinely smashed their guitars or even set them on fire at the end of their concerts. So Michael’s breaking the glass of a derelict, abandoned car was nothing, compared to what rock musicians had been doing before this video appeared.
Still, none of them ever danced…
I should also note that there’s nothing new in the choreography. Michael simply produced a mix of his usual repertoire, starting with elements of classic tap dance and ending with his famous waves and crotch grabs. It’s what usually happens in any improvisation: a flow of habitual moves and then a couple of inspirational flashes when the body does something new that you notice only when watching the recording afterwards.
Remove the mood from the video and you are left with a set of rather silly body movements, half of which focus your attention on the crotch area. Many people still see it that way. They are more attracted to the fact that Michael overturns a trash bin and zips up the fly. “What is this??” an average granny asks while watching the video on TV with her granddaughter…
Being quite conservative myself, I nevertheless see a clear difference between all of Michael’s “crotch activity” and regular vulgar manifestations of modern culture. The content is different. For him, it’s both daring behavior and an echo of his African roots. I think he loved teasing the public (I would love to, certainly, if I were in his place) but all this is more neutral than people think. The meaning has to be looked for in the nature of African dance. I will return to this topic a bit later.
For now, let’s get back to the structure of the Black or White short film. The name itself suggests a few interpretations. On the one hand, Black or White clearly addresses outer, racial differences. This is the meaning on the surface and the story the song tells. But I always liked to consider it from another point of view as well – the “black” and “white” of a human soul.
The first part, the “respectable” side is white. The second is black, evoking darkness and a black panther. Often we are scared of our dark side and repress it, hiding it deep, hoping to be better people. But surmounting our dark side is impossible without first acknowledging its existence and actively working to understand its nature. In other words, we need constructive dialogue with the evil spirit… The Duende of sorts.
Whether Michael realized it or not, in that dance he released something he had accumulated in himself. This was complete emancipation. And it didn’t matter whether it was decent to do or not – the important thing was to pour out the energy of liberation. This is the struggle the Spanish dancer faces when possessed by the Duende. You never think of decency or handsomeness in such a moment. You have to be extremely open and violent in your passion and pain.
Although I know the black panther as an important symbol in the American civil rights movement, it also has an ancient meaning, a mystic connection to a violent and primeval spirit of the animal. I would even say it carries the echo of totemism. At the same time, it represents the opening and release of the inner devil hiding in all of us, letting your panther out. It’s a trope as old as the world itself, and that’s why it works.
Michael generally referenced a lot of archetypal images in his art, which made it extremely rich and fascinating – unlike many of the sickly-sweet pop images of the modern stage. It includes his elusive and mysterious love of the Moon, which lent its name to his choreographic specialty, the moonwalk. By pure intuition.
We know that many poets and artists were inspired by the Moon: it was glorified in love songs and evoked frightening secrets of the night. Again, all this goes deep into folklore and our nature. I do not want to dwell on moon legends, myths, and cults right now, which had a profound influence on art around the world. This subject is very important in the Spanish folklore and my personal worldview, so if I “get on my hobby horse” I risk getting carried away. I just want to say that you cannot dance without the Moon – if you dance intuitively, going by feeling, that is. As Michael used to say, when you dance, you don’t think – you feel.
Now let’s talk about the perceived sexuality of Michael’s movements – a subject I promised to touch upon earlier. You know, sexuality, aggression, and passion have a lot in common. This can be said about many folk dances that include emotionality and passion. Any manifestation of a human being in dance, when the person feels free and emotional, can be perceived as a manifestation of sexuality because the borderline between emotions and basic instinct is pretty thin. Still, this does not mean there is no borderline at all.
Fred Astaire once said to Michael, “You’re an angry dancer,” and this statement is accurate. This doesn’t mean an evil anger, but passion – the passion of performance – something frenzied and devilishly attractive. The mood of the dancer strongly influences what the body does. You have to know how to pour your feelings and energy in movement. Only then will the dance be the dance. Without it, it’s just calisthenics. And if feelings are merely portrayed through facial expressions and not truly felt, they will look grotesque.
We should remember that in art, spirituality is primary, and technique is secondary. Sports are different – in sports, technique is primary – but dancing is not a sport. Michael Jackson had what it takes in terms of artistic gift. Many of his moves looked so brilliant, smooth, and talented not because he was technically skilled (although he was certainly capable) but because he lived through every movement. His entire being participated, including his subconsciousness, producing this perfect union of plastique and music. Unfortunately, this is not something one can learn. This is natural talent.
By the way, Michael was not the most technically proficient dancer in the world. He never performed jumps with splits, never hit fifty steps per second and never did 32 fouettés in a row, although sometimes he did things amazing for a human body. Without a doubt, there are many contemporary dancers, especially young ones, who do what Michael could never have done. But even so, we call him great, and those other dancers are just common extras for us. Why is this so?
I’ll say it again: the reason is the artistic gift, the energy, the shamanic sorcery and charisma. Grandeur on stage starts not when the dancer can do a somersault flying three meters above the stage. That is circus acrobatics. Technique is only a means used by the art of dance. Talent in this art form originates not from technique but from the ability to speak and paint with your body, to express nuances and find an individual style of your body movement. An artist achieves complete grandeur in dance if he can transform a tiny gesture into a small spectacle, a sacred act. Michael Jackson knew how to do it. That’s why he was a genius.
I remember how it jarred on me when I heard people talk about his excessive fame. They argued, for example, that the moonwalk wasn’t even created by Michael himself but was Marcel Marceau’s move. Well, if we dig into history, we discover this move existed long before Marceau. Also, being a dancer myself, I can say that the moonwalk is just a fetish in an individual dancing style – the Michael Jackson dance.
There is an interesting trick in choreography, used by many, that involves finding an original memorable move and showcasing it at the culmination of a performance. This move has to be unique or funny, but it doesn’t have to be technically complex. To find such a move can be a merit in itself – because it’s not easy.
This is the case of the moonwalk: it is quite a simple movement that can be learned by any person who can more or less control his or her body. I don’t refer to the advanced versions, such as the side slide or circular moonwalk – those are more difficult. But the classic moonwalk (i.e., walking backwards) can be performed even by an amateur. Yes, it is unusual, and you have to understand the principle of the move to repeat it. But that’s all it takes.
Michael’s dancing demonstrates so much more serious plastique and technique that, compared to them, the moonwalk is just a trifle. Look at the way he controls his body, his coordination, his sense of rhythm! And his spins! They are simply incredible! This is something only a very gifted professional can do.
Still, the moonwalk is the move that people call “sensational.” That’s a purely social effect – instigated by artistic wit and a talented choreographic choice. To perform such an odd element at a historic Motown anniversary, to make it memorable and pour so much energy into it – it paid off.
When journalists talk about Michael’s dancing, they usually cite the moonwalk as his special achievement in dancing technique. The moonwalk may be a historical event; however, it’s not his main contribution to the art of dance. His contributions extend far beyond that. They are not just in specific elements of dance, but, first and foremost, in his prominent style, his rich and expressive body language, and his unique approach to dancing.
There’s a multitude of dance steps and techniques in the world, and new ones will continue to appear endlessly. The sky is the limit. Still, history memorializes those dancers who could create something special on stage that would make people lose their minds, love, cry, rejoice, and empathize with the dancer. This is the most important element of an entertainer’s work. If you can set a spark and kindle a fire in your own heart and the hearts of the viewers, then you are a master. All the steps and techniques simply serve as an instrument to create that effect. It is their harmonic combination in a single organism that’s important, just like music is composed of seven notes in various octaves. Some music can move and amaze you, while other music simply doesn’t. The same is true for dance.
Let’s go back to the roots of Michael’s dance once again. When people speak of his dancing, they often recall the legendary Fred Astaire and his dancing pieces. Here we can see a lot of what Michael “inherited” – that whole gangster style with the shoes and the hat, the costumes, the color and lighting effects, and the direct use of tap dance elements. But the amazing thing is that he borrowed only external stylistic means (like motives from the pop classics) and mixed them with his spontaneous African passion – and not as much in the manner of tap dance performed by black dancers, but in the improvised and passionate nature of folk dances of Africa and the Caribbean basin. This is where the merriment, stage glitter, and elegance suddenly transform into a spontaneous shaman dance to the sound of drums. Notice how Michael looks extremely at ease and organic in the crowd of Brazilian drummers in his They Don’t Care About Us short film. They have a common nature.
In truth, Michael looks like a stage dandy in patent leather shoes only from afar. It’s just a theatrical show he puts on to create a certain effect. He has not gangster spats on, but black loafers and white socks; the black jacket hides a tee and a shirt he would rip from top to bottom at any moment; and the elegant fedora covers tousled hair that has nothing in common with the brilliantine of well-groomed dancers of the past. He needs the look just to appear in the spotlight. The spotlight is a theatrical tool as old as the world, we all use it – and Michael was not the first to create it. He borrowed it from the classics. The light and shadow of high-contrast lighting, accenting a white glove or white tape on his fingertips – and you have the first intriguing chord of mystery. A cavalier dressed in black, walking out of darkness, an archetype so seductive for the ladies since the times of cloak-and-dagger comedies. A woman cannot see his face, but already dreams of him as her romantic secret lover visiting her in the dead of the night and climbing through her window. Hence the hat pushed down to shade his eyes.
The most eloquent parts of the body when dancing are the hands and feet. Especially the hands. The hands are the third tool after words and facial expression to help us express our thoughts and feelings. They make gestures; they talk; they can even sing. I often tell my students that, to be truly expressive when dancing, the hands have to continue the impulse coming out of you, your gaze and your feelings. The palm and fingertips are the source of outpouring energy. They have to be visible. The hands are the most delicate instrument in movement.
Michael enhanced the visual effect with the help of white tape and a glove. They acted like fireballs of energy flashing against the darkness of the mysterious image. The same was true of the white socks – they accentuated his feet. And all this elegant magic of a cavalier in black suddenly opened up in a wild African ecstasy concealed under the covers of the theatrical props. Tap dance movements turned into sensual arching of the body, the famous daring crotch grabbing and crazy shirt ripping.
This works better than a striptease. It’s seduction at the level of subconscious associations and emotions, the level of beauty and not plain physiology. This is how Michael gripped the attention of even the most demanding women and young ladies who don’t fall for demonstrations of rude masculinity.
Did Michael realize what he was doing? I think, intuitively he did, and he also realized that he was drawing a lot of attention – but he never thought too much about it. And this allowed him to dance naturally, chastely and ingenuously, like a wild man. His dancing body became seductive and desirable, while his soul remained filled with pure energy. It is sensuality of a higher level, where the body is subject to the spirit.
Some might argue that Michael had short films and dance pieces with direct references to sexuality – he danced with women and addressed all aspects of relationships in his dance. The art of any artist reflects various sides of life, including love and sexuality, but we have to understand that not every dance is dedicated to this subject, no matter what movements it incorporates.
It’s always amusing to see how people assume a sexual context in dances where there is none. We have to remember that dance is an art actively performed by the body. The body can spontaneously and sometimes even unconsciously manifest something that a detached observer might see as sexual. You can simply lie on the beach and relax, but someone might be watching you and having sexual feelings. That is the problem of the viewer and not your inner message.
In the same way, a performer can express a different message with the dance, than is perceived by a viewer – or express nothing at all. Sex might be not at the top of the performer’s mind. In Michael’s case, sex was mostly secondary. He was too religious, shy and spiritual to emphasize these things. He, like any person, definitely had subconscious sexuality, but it never transformed into a non-stop direct manifestation and vulgar seduction. Such ostentation, appropriate or not, is displayed by nearly all modern pop entertainers, from Madonna to teen-serving boy bands. They shake their butts and convey a distinct message that this has to arouse someone in the audience. It stands out even in those dance numbers which definitely do not need it. The majority of pop performers are obsessed with their sexual appeal: they want to be desired so much that sometimes they bring onstage nothing but sex, in its rudest form, and that deprives them of their true charm.
Michael never did that. His dance never contained this blunt provocative ostentation. He had natural sensuality and not salaciousness. When he danced, he switched off all logical, verbal information. He simply danced, like his ancestors in Africa who walked around almost naked and never considered their nudity as something improper. They were sexy, they burned with passion, but they never knew vulgarity. Even though Michael consciously used show techniques in his dance, he still turned it into the sincerity of a child and a savage shaman. He simply danced and enjoyed the dance itself, and not the thought that his dance was arousing someone. This is the difference between him and many other pop performers.
Dances originating from ancient folk roots generally have many moves with sensual and sexual nature. For instance, if you watch common Spanish Gypsies dance at their family gatherings, you can see mischievous and daring moves in their playful dancing. Yet these people have a strict patriarchal order in their everyday life, and girls are brought up in chastity, which is highly valued in their society.
If you look at the folk dances of Latin Americans or African Americans, you also see lots of sensual movements, including crotch grabbing. And notice the way the Brazilians shake their various body parts… All this is sexual. It’s a reminder that all folk dances once were attributes of pagan cults and celebrations. Moves that hinted at something sexual were intended to praise fertility, harvesting and healthy offspring. The meaning was not to arouse the viewer but to praise and celebrate life, or perform a religious ritual. The energy people emitted in ecstatic dancing was meant to bring welfare to their tribe and reflect their union with supreme forces and with nature. The sexuality of their moves was a tool and not the final goal. That’s why in all these cultures such moves look sensual, natural and not at all obscene. Such movements are familiar to local people – they’ve seen them or danced them since childhood and attach no special importance to them. The dancers don’t cross a line. They simply do what’s natural to them.
Speaking of the African folk dance, look at the way these little girls from Senegal dance in the streets of their village. It’s a common childhood pastime, just like American girls jump rope in the driveways in Indiana. There is no subtext to it. Nevertheless, the Senegal girls customarily make fast rhythmical thrusts with their hips, sometimes grabbing their skirts between their legs. This might be seen as improper in the traditional European cultures, but the African culture sees no obscene meaning in those movements, so naturally they are performed without a shade of vulgarity.
We can see similar movements in dances performed by professionals – for example, the Chuck Davis African American Dance Ensemble, which performs traditional African and African-American dances. Of course, we can notice the body poses, the direction of hand and feet movements, and the way they are performed so freely. Many of these moves could easily be made vulgar if one wanted to lend them a degree of obscenity.
In short, a movement is made vulgar not by the body part that makes it, but by the way it is presented and perceived.
Far back in my childhood days, I came to the conclusion that all modern popular music and dance culture originated from Africa. This is quite obvious. However, the movie Dance Black America which I saw later left a strong impression on me. I realized that half of our everyday life is related to Africa. This movie is a wonderful material. It traces the history of black dance from ancient folk roots to modern dance. We see tap dancing, various stage pieces from the beginning of the 20th Century, and the Lindy Hop. All of these dances are the heritage of Africa. And all of Western pop culture borrows its rhythms from Africa.
The most amazing thing is that Africans have completely changed European notions about how to dance. Where are the European waltzes and gavottes now? Shut in their small niche of high culture – of ballroom dancing and other all-but-forgotten historic dance for those who wish to study it. But the African principle of free movement of all body parts rules any disco or night club. Even the most talentless people who simply shuffle their feet to the music while waving their arms in the air still produce the echo of the African aesthetics of movement.
Because I’ve studied and worked with flamenco dancing and culture for many years, I have been asked whether I think this culture influenced Michael’s art in any way. I don’t see any direct influence. But I do see connection points.
As I’ve said many times before, traditions of folk dancing and folk music around the world originated in similar ways and for similar reasons, and that includes flamenco and African-American culture (including jazz). Both date back to ancient ethnicities, and both have African influences, though to a different degree. And both traditions have the same bases, such as improvisation, plastique, rhythm, expression of powerful emotions and an ecstatic state of mind often going back to mystical beliefs of the past.
Flamenco and African-American culture are also close because both cultures were preserved for centuries by populations who sang not only about joyful times, but also about burdens of life, loneliness and death. Also, both cultures have connections to Christianity, creating interesting subgenres within church festivals and chants. The two cultures have often intersected in history, giving birth to interesting hybrids and new genres. Even today, these cultures are still friendly. Spanish art draws on African motifs in various forms, giving us mixed styles such as flamenco jazz.
To return to the question of the influence of flamenco on Michael, I know he communicated a little with Joaquin Cortés, one of the most famous dancers of modern flamenco. Both in their art and their onstage image, we can see some similarities between them. Although it’s arguable whether there is a direct influence, they clearly have something in common – for example, a black hat, a white tee, long hair and a skillful ability to work with the audience.
Michael’s references to flamenco are clearly seen in his In The Closet short film. First, there are glimpses of Spanish female dancers in long white skirts. Even if they are not really Spanish, they dance flamenco. That is clear. Secondly, these dancers and Michael all have flamenco-style hairdos, with their hair pulled back very tight. Many people noted that it was unusual to see Michael with his hair tied back so smoothly. But this is a stylistic attribute: the overall concept of the video, including the costumes and set design, is made with a touch of Spain and Latin America, though perhaps the Spanish is dominating. Even Michael’s high-heeled shoes resemble those worn by Spanish dancers. By contrast, Naomi Campbell’s image is clearly Latin American. She wears a short dress in the style of the Brazilian lambada. The storyline of the video plays against a backdrop of whitewashed houses, classic for southern Spain and similar to those seen in Latin America. Perhaps this choice was made to underline the eroticism of the video, as many people associate Spanish and Latin American cultures with passion and sexuality.
Dance on Screen
I’d like to talk about some other of Michael’s short films and onscreen dance numbers. Unfortunately, I can’t discuss all of his wonderful works, so I’ll mention just a few. Among the videos with choreographed dance pieces, my favorites are Bad, Smooth Criminal and Ghosts. These are the most professional and brilliant works in terms of staging, filming and originality – a splendid combination of cinematography and choreography.
Smooth Criminal is, of course, a masterpiece of stage setting for dancing within the camera frame. It uses a variety of interiors, with carefully choreographed dance steps and camera angles moving the viewer from one interior to another in a way that fits with the storyline and dramatic action. Top class production creates a unified, logical sequence of frames that convey both dance and drama. Smooth Criminal is a wonderful stylization of the old Hollywood gangster theme, where every image is theatrical, in the good sense of the word.
There was even a perfect place for Michael to inject a moment of original self-expression: a pause without music, with groaning, screams and head shaking. A wonderfully dramatic element and a place for the wildness and shamanism; it feels somewhat like an African ritual, with the killing of chickens and demonic possession. In my opinion, this is the best moment of the video, slightly falling out of this whole Hollywood and Broadway gangster theme and creating a perfect contrast that does not clash with the overall style.
Moving next to the long dance segment in his short film Bad, Michael is absolutely fine in his aggression and in working with the camera like a partner. The whole piece is built on this approach. The corps de ballet follows Michael synchronously. This is their main function, and it looks like a united impulse, a challenge: the movement on camera convinces the viewer this challenge is real. And then, in the final a cappella part, there’s an interesting detail: all attention is so focused on Michael we may not see that others can’t reach even half of his nerve and frenzy as he practically shivers with emotion. He’s delivering all he can, his eyes dark with rage, while the men surrounding him are relatively calm. Just take a good look at them when you have the chance. It’s a funny contrast.
Bad is certainly one of Michael’s best works, one where we discover he’s a stage actor able to portray two very different characters. First, he’s a humble schoolboy who initially goes against his heart to fit in with bad company. But then he transforms into a cool, self-assured man – the man that humble schoolboy wants to be – to fight the evil.
Ghosts is another interesting film. Its choreography complements the story, and does it vividly, showing many innovative dance moves. In fact, I believe its greatest achievement is the imagery created by its choreography. Ghosts is often compared with Michael’s famous Thriller video because, at first glance, it seems to be simply a repeated use of a successful horror movie theme. However, unlike Thriller, this film addresses a deep philosophical subject of the relationship between the artist and the audience, between an outstanding personality and average men. Just as importantly, it also provides a much wider space for choreography.
In fact, Thriller has only one short dance piece, which is staged in such a way as to preserve the balance between professionalism and simplicity. On one hand, it’s a great theatrical work where dancers have fun playing various zombies. This gives them a chance to display their flexibility and expressiveness. On the other hand, the Thriller dance is the one most often used for MJ flashmobs, and the reason is not just the immense popularity of the dance but also because its choreography is fairly easy to learn – at least approximately, if not perfectly – so a large group of amateurs can dance it more or less together.
The dance pieces from Ghosts are much more difficult and require much more skill than the moves from Thriller. The characters are given more screen time and a better opportunity to show themselves. This dance has a lot more choreographic innovations and oddities, dramatic elements that create an illusion of strangeness around a group of ghosts from beyond. Michael himself plays a few different roles, and each of those roles slightly refracts his plastique to fit the current character. For example, he performs his signature dance moves in a typical and very recognizable way while creating the skeleton dance (with the help of motion capture cameras) just to help the audience understand who dances in that skeleton image. But when he uses a similar set of moves while dancing in the role of the fat mayor, he adds a lot of irony, and the dance becomes comical. Then, as he plays himself, the Maestro, he doesn’t go for clichés but displays a number of innovative elements never seen before, which make the choreography in the film absolutely different than any of his previous dances.
I should also add a few words about the Billie Jean stage number, as it is perhaps the signature piece among all of Michael’s solo dances. It is his masterpiece, based on minimalism, like a monologue staged in a naked setting, accentuated only but lighting. Only a true master can entertain people and not be boring in such a minimal form of display. It’s much more interesting for me, personally, to watch an improvisation, when the performer shows something spontaneous and unique. Billie Jean always has a place for improvising. Thanks to its simple elegance and individuality, the performance of Billie Jean formed one of the most memorable images of Michael Jackson for many years. It is this dance which is most often used to imitate Michael (which, I must say, mostly looks miserable). And it was Billie Jean that became a sensation at Motown 25 and took Michael the entertainer to a completely new height.
It is obvious to me that his performance at Motown 25 in 1983 is different than all his later concert versions of Billie Jean in many ways. It is not yet perfect, and the moonwalk isn’t performed as smoothly as in its later versions. Perhaps the floor was not slippery enough. Still, the emotional charge of the dance is so electrifying that it has never been matched by anything.
In the end of the Motown 25 performance, when Michael stops and looks into the audience … I don’t know how to describe the expression in his eyes, but I understand all of it. It is the kind of moment when a couple of minutes can change everything. You seem to have a different body. You try to memorize everything, but you’re left with only fragments, shards of memory, recollections of feelings. It’s such a strong surge of power that it feels like you’ve worked for two hours instead of two minutes. And, of course, it is the most powerful contact with the audience – which only inspires you more. If the audience is demanding and you need to please it with something new showed for the very first time, that’s a very special moment. I always watch this performance and think that Michael was passing an exam there. He didn’t even have a spotlight. Just a performer on stage. But somehow it looks more spectacular than expensive shows with special effects.
This Is It
The final issue I’d like to address are Michael’s skills as a dancer, and whether he lost some of his skills as he became older. Unfortunately, I have heard such opinions regarding his last performances in This Is It.
I’ll put it this way: there are many ways to look at a dance, but we always have to remember that the dance is an art and not a sport. I have already said this, but it’s important so I will say it again. In fact, it is the main thing. Dance is an art, and not a sport.
Certainly, dance is closely connected with the body, so physical conditioning and technical ability are factors when judging a dancer’s performance. Some technical aspects are more important in ballet, some others in folk dancing, and still others in dancing on the pop stage. Still, whatever the importance of technique, we have to start with the artistic content. Technique comes second. This does not deny the necessity of certain basics in performing this or that move. But we are talking about mastery by a great star, and not about beginners.
In Russian ballet, dancers retire at 38. Can you imagine? Not at 50, not at 45 – 38! Of course, the workload is enormous. That is why an early retirement age is specific to classic ballet and not a common rule for any type of dance. Still, we need to remember that there is such thing as retirement at 38.
Naturally, some ballet stars dance a lot longer. Maya Plisetskaya still performed when she was 70. But everybody understands that age gets its way. Such an artist would not give many performances, although tickets may be in high demand because people want to see a great star both at 20 and at 70. They want to see individuality and content, not a perfect fouetté. Individuality is the main thing in the artistry of dance, and the chief element in the star’s performance.
I’ll give you another example: in flamenco, people dance until very old age. There is no retirement at 38. In fact, I’ll go even further and say, in general, their career starts after they turn 30. No one can wave away the physical changes of an aging body – still, the Spanish dance even when they are fairly old because, again, the main thing is artistic content. In flamenco, spirituality and artistry are more important than technique. That’s why older dancers are sometimes appreciated more than younger ones: they have something to say when they get onstage. This is an art of mature people. You can only achieve success in this art when you have sufficient life experience. And it is very important to be a personality. To get onstage and tell the audience something, you have to be different and stand out from others.
I’m saying this to highlight the difference not only between the primary and secondary elements in art, but also between the skills of a master and the skills of common performers. It is important to understand that sometimes a master is outstanding not because he is able to do something requiring great physical effort, but because he does it in an incredible and unique way. Common performers often get you by doing a very high leap or perfectly learning a sequence staged by the choreographer. Both cases, indeed, are professional. But this professionalism serves different purposes.
Michael Jackson is a pop dancer whose work fell into the category of performing arts, and not sports. As in folk dance and classic theater, he created a meaningful dialogue with the audience and with God. This was his main message; this was what he brought to the public – both intuitively and quite consciously, like a professional and an original artist.
He was 50, yet his plastique was perfect. What else did he need to be able to perform in his genre? Nothing.
Yes, I believe he wasn’t able to dance for as many hours in a row or with the same energy as he did when he was 20 or 30. To be a healthy 50-year-old man on stage is still not as easy as being on stage at 30 – there is a difference. But he didn’t need to put in so much effort. Marathons are for young ones. Michael only needed to show his individuality, his plastique, temperament and passion. And that’s all. Do I need to say that he did have it all?
So when Michael is shown in This Is It, I can say, even leaving any sympathy behind, that he was much better than his dancing team because his body is living every second of the dance. His dance moves are natural for him. And no matter how hard these brilliant young men tried, they would never be able to be like him, even if they were very talented or physically stronger. Honestly, I shouldn’t even be explaining this because it’s fundamental truth. The fact that I have to dwell on this is exasperating because some people just do not understand the basics. This misunderstanding makes me sad not only regarding such an outstanding dancer as Michael Jackson, but also in the wider context of understanding dance as an art form and social phenomenon.
I’d like to note just one more important thing: Michael was not only getting older, but he had also suffered a lot of trials and tribulations in his life. That’s a fact. But whether he was healthy or not doesn’t really change anything in his skills. It is clear that he had a very hard life and yet he never lost the ability to sing and dance superbly. The movie demonstrated this at full length. I can only say that the rehearsals certainly must have been tiring for Michael, but he still knew how to work hard and perform masterfully.
As to the way he dances in the film, every frame is a small masterpiece. Often, the dance is not very complex. It’s obvious that Michael improvises, sometimes repeating the same sequence over and over again, which is a common occurrence in improvisation. It’s not stressful for him; it’s a way of relaxation. At other times, he is simply fooling around. But it is wonderful. Even when he’s fooling around, he is a genius; he has a genius body. His fooling around is unique too, and cannot be imitated.
Once Michael told journalist Martin Bashir that a dancer shouldn’t think, he has to feel. That’s absolutely right. You have to go with the flow. It can match the music or it can develop without it, like an independent visualization. And it doesn’t mean that you empty your head – the dance is nonverbal information. But you can’t feel psychologically stressed when you’re dancing, or you will fail. You have to feel free. If we talk about technically complex elements like leaps or spins, they require a lot of concentration. But plastique which, on the outside, looks very complex is often perceived by the dancer like an element of relaxation. The body waves, arching arms, bending neck, and extended foot – all this is done with the feeling of being free and at ease, like an everyday walk. Your plastique in dancing becomes your natural body language.
People like Michael never master plastique step by step. They live with it. You don’t come to a ballet class thinking how to do a move. Instead, you catch the feeling of that move, you do it, and it becomes as natural as breathing. If you know how to do it, you will know it forever – as long as your motor functions are intact.
When dancers say that dancing is a hell of a workout, it means that after 5 to 20 minutes of dancing you get tired, and after a few hours you get horribly worn out. But it doesn’t mean that you keep thinking, “Oh God, this is so hard!” Dancing makes you feel self-assured and happy, despite the physical workload. Sometimes dancing makes your feet bleed and your ligaments sore. But when you dance, you try to ignore the feeling of pain, and often it seems weaker than it really is. When you’re in ecstasy, pain can even disappear completely. It happens. On stage, everything seems wonderful, marvelous and unexpected. You’re high on the adrenaline. And sometimes you don’t feel the pain or full consequences of the workout until the next day.
I am not a medic or scientist who can describe all the brain processes occurring in this state of mind. But I can say that the stage often reveals concealed abilities and hidden reserves of the body, which open up due to our ability to use the subconscious and altered state of awareness. Again, we circle back to the main point of this article: Michael lived in dance, so it is absurd to say that his late skills might have been weaker than before.
A Poet in Dance
I could go on and on, but it’s time to finish. I have painted a picture to which you can continually add more details if you’d like, because the subject of the art of dance in its global sense is inexhaustible, and Michael is a constant in it. I only hope that I was able to demonstrate the main elements of the picture.
There are many good dancers, but only few of them are Artists and Entertainers. The genre and scale of popularity don’t matter. What’s important is how much the entertainer devotes himself to his art, to what extent he realizes his great gift and how much of it he shares with the audience. The gift is not just talent or brilliance. The gift is an opportunity to become a servant of dance with the help of your God-given talent, loving it and sensing its sacred and universal meaning.
Michael Jackson was one of those dancing poets who loved the dance selflessly and brought its essence on stage. He brought a spark to viewers that took them beyond conventional limits, allowing them to connect with the sphere of frenzied energy, emotion and beauty that cannot be perceived by logic, but can only be felt. He could bare emotions and find incredible details in the stream of improvisation like only a rare dancer – and no other pop performer – can. The spirituality and aesthetics he brought on pop stage were unique and unprecedented. The complexity and yet the simplicity of what he was doing fused into something brilliant. In his genre, he will remain unmatched for a very long time. I’d like everyone to understand that, and not just his fans.
I’m happy I lived in a time when he was alive. And I’m happy that I first saw him at a time when I could watch his videos without unnecessary commentary and judge him without that bias. Years later, it became the trend to call him “wacko” and a monster, and then it was almost scary to admit that you liked Michael Jackson. Still, it never stopped me from seeing the beauty and spirituality of his art.
It is painful to know how his life ended. It’s unfortunate that talent tends to be seen in the negative light while the artist is alive. Sadly, that seems to be human nature. A talented and versatile person, incredibly gifted in music, dance and drama, is known to the public not by the best examples of his work, but by select video fragments shown on TV and by tabloid sensations unworthy of any attention. Today, there is not one decent documentary about him on TV – all you see is some pathetic amateurish stuff with confused names, dates and facts that says nothing about his creative genius. The best concert recordings and films are still watched by his fans only. It’s a shame, really. I can only hope that justice will prevail one day. And we must do everything we can to help it prevail with our modest contributions.
I still believe that a day will come when Michael Jackson the artist will become classic and will be remembered not just as a mere pop idol, but as a great entertainer and humanitarian “dancing his dream.”
Amor (Lubov Fadeeva)
English translation by Julia Sirosh; editing by Vera Serova and Willa Stillwater