Michael Jackson's Gravity-Defying Lean Continues To Fascinate : The Record It turns out the 45-degree tilt seen in the "Smooth Criminal" video is a mix of illusion, science and some serious athleticism.
NPR logo Michael Jackson's Gravity-Defying Lean Continues To Fascinate

Michael Jackson's Gravity-Defying Lean Continues To Fascinate

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From the quarter toss into the jukebox to the cue ball crushed into powder and blown into a baddie's face to the moonwalk that lasts more than a blink of an eye, if you haven't watched the video for Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" in a while, it's every bit as magic as you remember it. Jackson was always something of an illusionist, particularly when it came to his signature dance moves.

Three neurosurgeons (and admitted Jackson fans) from the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India — Nishant S. Yagnick, Manjul Tripathi and Sandeep Mohindra — have revisited how the King of Pop achieved the 45-degree lean while keeping his spine straight, not just on video, but in live performances around the world.

"Several MJ fans, including the authors, have tried to copy this move and failed, often injuring themselves in their endeavors," reads the paper published in the Journal of Neurosurgery. Trained dancers can lean forward a maximum of 25 to 30 degrees, but even then, it can put serious strain on the Achilles tendon.

Michael Jackson's 45-degree tilt versus the rest of humanity illustrated, along with Jackson's secret weapon. Courtesy of Manjul Tripathi hide caption

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Courtesy of Manjul Tripathi

Michael Jackson's 45-degree tilt versus the rest of humanity illustrated, along with Jackson's secret weapon.

Courtesy of Manjul Tripathi

It's not a secret that the card up Jackson's sleeve, so to speak, was a special shoe patented under his name way back in 1993.

"The triangular slot could engage a hitch member (a metallic peg, which emerged from the stage floor at just the right time), allowing the dancer to obtain the right amount of extra support to be able to lean forward beyond physiological limits," the paper continues.

So no — MJ's shoe-hitch isn't new news, but, as the neurosurgeons elaborate, the mind-boggling feat could only occur with incredible core strength from the spinal and lower-limb muscles. So, basically: Don't try this home, unless you have anti-gravity footwear and are totally jacked.

Michael Jackson puts all of the pressure of his dance move on the Achilles tendon. Courtesy of Manjul Tripathi hide caption

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Courtesy of Manjul Tripathi

Michael Jackson puts all of the pressure of his dance move on the Achilles tendon.

Courtesy of Manjul Tripathi