Recently, at a party, I watched open-mouthed as a stranger started to moonwalk. Conversations around the room fell silent while everyone paused to appreciate the dancer's skill. The moonwalk, as pop culture knows it, has been around since Michael Jackson debuted it in 1983. Turns out, the moonwalk is far older than MJ yet its appeal is as strong as ever. It's the ultimate parlor trick.
What is it about this illusion that is so captivating? Video artist Hannah Ireland has this to say about it: "The illusion of effortlessly gliding backwards over the surface of the floor while walking in a forward motion contradicts the experience of trudging around carrying our body weight through the world everyday." Hannah has seen her share of moonwalks; her video In Orbit explores YouTube users' homemade videos of the dance:
Moonwalking is a classic mime manoveur. Here is an example of 'walking into the wind:'
It has had various names including 'the buzz' and 'the wind,' but technically as long as the illusion of walking is created, then you have yourself a moonwalk. Moonwalking's history lies not only in miming, but in jazz and tap as well, and can vary greatly from the 'backwards pull' that Michael Jackson was known for. Fred Astaire, the Nicholas Brothers, Sammy Davis Jr., all have their own versions of the step. In this video, we can see the great Cab Calloway moonwalking forwards to his classic "Minnie the Moocher."
Bill Bailey exiting the stage at the Apollo Theatre in 1955 is alleged to be the first Michael Jackson-style moonwalk ever recorded:
Even David Bowie got in on the action. For the uber-theatricial Diamond Dogs tour, Bowie studied with the famed mime Étienne Decroux. You can see Decroux's influence throughout the tour. In the intro to this version of "Aladdin Sane" we can see Bowie doing a kabuki-esque in-place moonwalk:
The sparkly-socked moonwalk debuted in 1983 during "Billie Jean" at the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever concert. Michael Jackson may not have invented the step but he certainly made it his own. Here is the classic moonwalk that we all know and love:
If Cab Calloway, street mimes, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, and about fifty thousand Youtube uploaders can master the moonwalk then surely you can too: