Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson: An American Dancer

I heard the news when, on the elimination show of SYTYCD, Nigel Lithgow announced the deaths this week of three American icons: Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson. We expected the passing of McMahon (from age) and Fawcett (from cancer), but not Michael Jackson. When I finally had a chance to flip over to the news, they were focusing on the confusing eccentricities of Jackson’s later life. Since I really detest celebrity gossip, I switched over to MTV where we all discovered the enormity of this man’s talents.
"It wasn’t only his dancing we loved,
but the power of his music to make us dance"

MTV is showing Jackson’s impressive catalog of videos, not just clips but the whole unedited versions.  What a joy it is to see this collection one after another. If ever I had doubts about his dancing talent, they were put finally to rest when I watched the long version of Bad with its lengthy group choreography worthy of Broadway. In Beat It the choreography paid tribute to Jerome Robbins’s West Side Story rumble scene. With his slightly shortened pants and stark white socks he remembers Fred Astaire, who was evidently a fan of Jackson’s. And, like Astaire, his dedication and respect for dance is evident in how his videos where shot: with the whole dancer, the whole choreography unmediated by tricky camera shots or sliced up by over-zealous editors.

But, of course it wasn’t only his dancing we loved, but the power of his music to make us dance. In Black and White we are treated to dancers from Africa, India, Native America, and Russia performing to his song. His moves are a part of the world dance vocabulary now. The choreography from Thriller and Beat It are the most well known pieces in the history of dance. I suspect all of us can recall at least one movement from Thriller.  Boys from across the globe learned and performed these choreographies at weddings, parties, in the streets. It a way, Jackson helped make it possible for men to dance with pride and freedom, the effects of which we see today on shows like SYTYCD and America’s Best Dance Crew.

He was generous with his music which never failed to make us feel its power. Whether it was for sheer enjoyment, as in Jam in which he attempts to teach Michael Jordan to moonwalk, or for global healing as in We Are the World, for which even Musak paused its programming. And how can we forget his tender voice in his tribute video for Ryan White. That song, Gone Too Soon, expresses what many of us feel today. What a tragedy that we will not hear from the mature Michael, who was in rehearsal for a new concert tour.

This is the Michael Jackson I morn today; the American artist, the American genius. May he rest in peace.


  1. I grew up listening to his songs, watching his dance. I hope, your songs will live in our generation.. You will be remembered through your music forever. Everybody loves him from all over the world! Rest in peace...

  2. recent events have been a reminder of how fragile our existences on earth really are