Moonwalk Dance

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Eat your heart out, Neil Armstrong!

In 1983 Michael Jackson appeared during the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever anniversary special. After performing with his brothers he did a solo performance, namely his hit song "Billie Jean" from his then recent album Thriller. As Jackson amazed the crowd with his smooth and undeniably "cool" dance moves he suddenly premiered a dance that looks like the person is walking forwards while going backwards at the same time. Despite only lasting a few seconds the crowd went berserk and next day Jackson was the talk of the town, increasing his already massive national and international exposure. Fred Astaire saw the show on TV and personally called up Michael to meet him and show him how to do that particular dance? A question many people back then wondered about. Several have tried it and it is possible to do after much practicing, but remains quite complex for beginners.

The dance was dubbed the moonwalk, because it seemed as if the performer was walking on the moon while doing it. It became an essential part of every Jackson concert and for many people the highlight of the show. He named both his autobiography and movie Moonwalker after it and the dance became one of his trademarks.

Yet Michael didn't invent it, as he was quick to point out himself. He had learned it from some black school children in the early 1980s, who knew it as "The Glide". Other sources claim he was inspired by James Brown who also used the move and/or mime artist Marcel Marceau during his famous "walking against the wind" sketch, where he pretends to be pushed backwards by a gust of wind. Even Cab Calloway claimed that the dance move had been around since the 1930s and that they called it "The Buzz" back then. Others claim it was named the "backslide". However, none of these early prototypes quite match the magic and swift perfection of Jackson's performance. Generally most of them are much slower and the dancers don't move backwards very far. Although if they had the same amount of massive media exposure Jackson had at the time things might have been different.

Nevertheless the dance is nowadays universally recognized as the moonwalk. And although Jackson wasn't the Trope Namer for the moonwalk he is definitely the Trope Codifier. Since he popularized it and made it his trademark virtually all appearances of a moonwalk in popular culture will automatically be assumed to be a shout-out to the "King of Pop". Because of this it has become both a Stock Pose as well as a Stock Parody.


Examples of this trope can be found in:

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    Advertising 
  • A Pepsi commercial aired at the height of Michaelmania between 1983 and 1984 has a group of street children dance to the beat of Billie Jean, one of them being a very young Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) who both dresses and dances like Jackson. As he moonwalks while drinking a Pepsi he just happens to bump into the real Michael Jackson and his brothers in the street.
  • The Dance Pony Dance commercial for the 3G network in the UK features a Shetland pony moonwalking across the countryside to the tune of Fleetwood Mac's "Everywhere".

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Urbanus: In one album Urbanus, Amedee and Nabuko Donosor visit Jackson in his Neverland Ranch and try to impress him by performing the moonwalk. As they slide out through his door he is able to close it and get rid of them.

    Film — Animated 
  • Pinocchio performs it near the end of Shrek 2 during the finale song, complete with crotch thrust.
  • Roadside Romeo: At one point the mouse does Michael Jackson's signature moonwalk and pelvic thrust. Complete with crotch grab.

    Film — Live Action 
  • The 1974 film version of The Little Prince featured Bob Fosse as a snake doing a dance that is also considered a precursor to the Moonwalk. It helps that he is sporting an all black jacket, pants, and hat combo with a white shirt, much like MJ's signature style.
  • Moonwalker. Duh! Though Jackson only performs it a few times during the music video of "Smooth Criminal". Earlier in the film a cop gives him a ticket for moonwalking on the road in a "No moonwalking zone".
  • In Back to the Future Part III, Marty is forced to dance while Buford Tannen shoots at his feet. He confuses the 19th century cowboy by performing the moonwalk, even singing part of "Billie Jean" under his breath.
  • Near the end of Austin Powers 3 Scott Evil performing a moonwalk just before the end credits.
  • In American Psycho, Bateman does this with an axe in hand immediately before killing Paul Allen. Bret Easton Ellis, who wrote the source novel, said this was one of the only problems he had with the adaptation, as he felt it was out of character.
  • Charlie's Angels. When a number of Knox's goons attempt to take out Dylan, whose tied to a chair, Dylan describes to them, step-by-step, how she's going to knock each and every one of them out, and finish by moonwalking out of the room. Guess what follows?
  • X-Men: Apocalypse: Quicksilver does this briefly while he was in the middle of rescuing Xavier's students from an explosion. Why does he do this? Because he has time to do so.
  • In Blind Date, this is one of the humiliating things that an enraged gun-wielding Walter forces David to do. And then he says "I hate that shit!" and starts shooting the ground at David's feet.
  • In Michael Jackson's This Is It, Michael doesn't perform the moonwalk at all during the rehearsals. Even during the "Billie Jean" segment, he simply does a quick shuffle with his feet while remaining in place.

    Literature — Fiction 
  • In Terry Pratchett's Johnny and the Dead, Johnny Maxwell and his 1990's gang teach the ghosts in the local cemetary - all of whom died in the period 1850-1948 - how to do the Moonwalk dance. (an affectionate parody of the Thriller video with real Undead). The sight of a corpulent Victorian mayor and a suffragette who died for her beliefs getting really into it is one that provokes much amusement.

    Literature — Non-Fiction 

    Live-Action TV 
  • Michael Jackson debuted the moonwalk in the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever TV special in 1983. This performance was later reenacted by Wylie Draper for the 1992 ABC miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream.
  • Silver Spoons:
    • When Alfonso gets caught in a Celebrity Lie, claiming he knows Michael Jackson, he hires a Jackson impersonator to come to the local hangout and moonwalk dance with him. This actually succeeds, until the pressure of keeping the lie going gets to him and he 'fesses up. At the end of the episode Alfonso and Ricky put on a breakdance demonstration for their parent[al substitute]s, including moonwalking and posing on their toes.
    • In the episode "Mr. Cool" Ricky shows off his "coolness" by wearing Sunglasses at Night and moonwalking.
  • Quantum Leap: In one episode Sam the time traveller teaches a five-year-old Michael Jackson to moonwalk.
  • On Whose Line Is It Anyway, the guys get the suggestion, "If celebrities had been the first people to walk on the moon." Guess what Wayne Brady does.

    Music Videos 
  • Jackson didn't perform the moonwalk often in his music videos. "Smooth Criminal" from Bad is the most notable exception.
    • In the music video of Michael Jackson's Ghosts Michael turns himself into a skeleton, then performs the moonwalk.
    • In the video for "Jam", Jackson does both the regular moonwalk and a stationary version, and tries to teach Michael Jordan the dance at the end of the video along with a few other moves.
  • In the fan video Behind The Mask by Jackson several fans perform the moonwalk as part of their tribute.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • WWE NXT's Carmella does a moonwalk in her entrance and as a celebration dance.
  • Wrestlers such as Scotty 2 Hotty (one half of Too Cool in the WWF) and Michael Hayes (of the Fabulous Freebirds) have done the moonwalk either during their entrances or as a taunt in the ring.

    Video Games 
  • Michael Jackson's Moonwalker: Probably the earliest example in video games.
  • In Plants vs. Zombies, the Dancing Zombie moonwalks into your lawn before summoning 4 Backup Dancers.
  • In Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Deadpool moonwalks whenever he walk backwards, as opposed to other characters.
  • The Secret World features the moonwalk as an emote. Subverted in that /moonwalk causes your character to awkwardly shuffle backwards, eventually getting frustrated by their inability to do it right. In the cutscene for "the Bank Heist", Cloudcuckoolander yakuza-kingpin Daimon Kiyota is caught doing cartwheels in his office and he explains that being crazy can be the edge needed to survive, doing a proper moonwalk as the player leaves. It turns out there was method behind his madness—you have to cartwheel past lasers and poorly moonwalk over pressure plates during the robbery, the reward for doing so without tripping the alarm is a perfect moonwalk emote.
  • In Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time Alister Azimuth does this when Ratchet uses the Groovitron on him.

    Visual Novels 
  • Sigma in Virtue's Last Reward at one point gets asked by Phi to demonstrate her point by taking some random action, in which the player can choose to clap, wave, or dance (among other choices). If the player chooses "moonwalk," she tells him he's doing it wrong.

    Web Original 
  • Early on in Moonstuck, Woona decides to moonwalk during a long walk across the surface of the moon.

    Web Video 
  • The Angry Video Game Nerd: When reviewing Michael Jackson's Moonwalker the Nerd at one point jokingly performs the moonwalk (just shuffling backwards) while holding his joystick.
  • Demo Reel. Rachel performs a quick moonwalk in the second episode of the series.
  • The machinima Arby 'n' the Chief has an episode in their Arby N The Chief in L.A. spinoff series where Arbiter and the Chief visit several attractions and sights around L.A./Hollywood, one of which is the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Chief does the moonwalk on Michael Jackson's tile, although, because of the format of the show (live-action action figures), only his upper body is seen, while his legs are not.
  • Epic Rap Battles of History:
    • Naturally done by Michael when battling Elvis, after the line: "Watch me moonwalk over your blue suede shoes".
    • Done by Darth Vader in his first confrontation vs. Hitler.

    Western Animation 
  • Alfred J. Kwak: In one episode Alfred's girlfriend Winnie is in love with an arrogant pop singer named Michael Duckson, who is a partial parody of Prince too. His stage act is mostly parodying Michael though, even with a moonwalk-like dance.
  • The Simpsons
    • As part of his dancing as a Springfield mascotte in "Dancin' Homer" Homer performs a moonwalk.
    • In the episode "Stark Raving Dad", where the real Michael Jackson voiced himself Jackson (as the mental patient Leon Kompowski who thinks he is Jackson) demonstrates this dance because Homer has never heard of the famous singer. Homer is amazed at the moonwalk and asks Michael: "How do you do that thing with your feet?" Jackson shows him, Homer tries, but he slides forwards instead of backwards. Later in the episode, after Bart is informed by phone that Michael Jackson will pay a visit to his house, he tells Marge that Homer is in an asylum and performs the moonwalk while humming the melody of "Beat It" at the same time.
    • Homer does the move correctly in "He Loves To Fly And D'ohses" while preparing to bowl.
    • In the couch gag of "Them, Robot" Leon Kompowski (from the episode "Stark Raving Dad") is seen moonwalking by for a brief moment when the clip show mentions the year 1991.
  • South Park: In Meet the Jeffersons the Michael Jackson Expy character performs the moonwalk briefly. When Ike is possessed by Jackson's ghost in Dead Celebrities he briefly does it too.
  • In the Star vs. the Forces of Evil episode "Sleepover", Marco attempts this to impress his crush Jackie, but then he trips and falls on his butt.
  • 2DTV: One gag, referencing Michael's baby bungling incident in 2002, had Jackson teaching his infant to moonwalk from one end of a window to another across the street by tightrope walking over a washing cord.

    Real Life 
  • There have been several celebrities credited with inventing the moonwalk before Jackson: Jeffery Daniels (Shalamar), Bill Bailey, Cab Calloway, James Brown, Adalberto Martínez "Resortes", etc...
  • After Jackson's death in 2009 the Belgian radio station Studio Brussel organized a tribute called the "eternal moonwalk", where fans from all over the world could imitate the moonwalk in short clips that fade into each other as one long never-ending continuous shot. All the clips can be viewed on this site (though it must be said that most people are just walking backwards.)
  • In 2012 a man was charged with assault after demanding another man to do the moonwalk at gunpoint. See it here.
  • The male red-capped manakin is a bird that has a courtship dance that resembles moonwalking.

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