'Bad' Choreographer Remembers Michael Jackson Choreographer and dancer Jeffrey Daniel worked with Michael Jackson on his hit videos Bad and Smooth Criminal. He also taught Jackson "the backslide," which the king of pop later developed into the famous "moonwalk."
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'Bad' Choreographer Remembers Michael Jackson

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'Bad' Choreographer Remembers Michael Jackson

'Bad' Choreographer Remembers Michael Jackson

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(Soundbite of song, "I Want You Back")


You can look back at footage from those earliest days with the Jackson 5 and see the same fancy footwork and nimble limbs that made Michael Jackson such a thrill to watch all through his career. The spins, the kicks, the moonwalk would come later.

Choreographer Jeffrey Daniel worked with Michael Jackson on his videos for "Bad" and "Smooth Criminal," and joins us from London. Mr. Daniel, welcome to the program.

Mr. JEFFREY DANIEL (Choreographer): Hi. Thank you very much.

BLOCK: And I know you have claimed that Michael Jackson's moonwalk actually evolved from a technique that you taught him back in 1980.

Mr. DANIEL: Right. It came from the backslide, that's what it really is, and that came from The Electric Boogaloos. It was just awesome that Michael came down to Disneyland for the Grad Nite. He brought little Janet Jackson along and they stood on the wing of the stage and they watched me dance. And then I got a call from him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: And what did he ask you?

Mr. DANIEL: He said that he'd like to get to get together and do some dances and go over, you know, the dance moves and that, you know.

BLOCK: Did he get the moonwalk, or what became the moonwalk, did he get it right away?

Mr. DANIEL: No one gets it right away. It's like the matrix, you know, everybody falls the first jump type thing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DANIEL: But it's something that you work on and master because you have to feel where your body is. You have to feel how you're pushing off. You have to feel how you're floating back. And everyone's body is different, so no one can teach you how your body weight should be distributed. You have to work that out on your own.

BLOCK: As you watched Michael Jackson learning the moonwalk, that became his signature, I mean, were you struck by what a great and fluid dancer he was -what a good athlete he was?

Mr. DANIEL: I was struck by that years ago watching him when he was a kid and watching him when he was, you know, a younger teenager. So that perception was already in my mind of Michael Jackson as an entertainer. Then to see him take what we're doing and take it to his arena, and take it into the next stratosphere was like, wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: He added that wonderful move where he hops up on the very tips of his toes and sort of perches there - just hangs in space.

Mr. DANIEL: Right. Right.

BLOCK: What did you think when you saw him do that?

Mr. DANIEL: That was mind blowing. I think that may have come, you know, he pulls different things from different people - from Sammy Davis, Jr., a bit of Elvis, a bit of James Brown, some Bob Fosse, Fred Astaire, what's happening on the streets. So he's a combination of all of those things and he mixes them all up.

BLOCK: Let's listen to a bit of the song "Bad." You did the choreography for this video.

(Soundbite of song, "Bad")

Mr. MICHAEL JACKSON (Artist): (Singing) Because I'm bad. I'm bad. Come on.

Unidentified People: (Singing) Really, really bad.

Mr. JACKSON: (Singing) You know it. You know I'm bad. I'm bad. You know it.

Unidentified People: (Singing) Really, really bad.

BLOCK: And in the middle of the song here, Michael Jackson and a whole gang of dancers are in the subway station. And why don't you talk about the moves that are going on here and how you choreographed this for him?

Mr. DANIEL: Okay, the other choreographer was Gregg Burge, rest in peace. We were watching things like "West Side Story" to get, kind of, inspiration about guys hanging out, the gang dancing. And I tried to incorporate what was happening currently on the streets with things that we were inventing.

Now, Gregg Burge, he was kind of taking "West Side Story" steps verbatim, but I was really trying to keep it current and contemporary at the same time. So, when you see the beginning steps at the very beginning of the song, when you see the guy doing the moonwalk on the roller skates, when you see us locking in the middle of the song, and snatching Martin Scorsese's poster off the wall, and jumping and freezing in the air and us doing the Michael Jackson scoot across the screen in a group, because, I said, Michael, your scoot has never been done in a collective before.

It's always been Michael scooting across the stage on his own. And I thought it would look nice if a group us did that Michael Jackson scoot across the screen. And it's like a train just coming across the screen. Che-che-che-che-che-che-che-che-che-che. Michael is with us, and we're all together and we're just scoot, scoot, scoot going forward.

BLOCK: Your pelvises are twitching.

Mr. DANIEL: Yes, the pelvises are popping and the fingers are popping at the same time. And we're just looking and look to the - forward, to the left, looking forward, to the left and scooting across. It's just like a train coming across the screen and that's the effect that I was looking for and it worked.

BLOCK: You know, Michael Jackson talked about dancing when he did an interview with the British journalist Martin Bashir. It aired on ABC in 2003. Let's listen to what he had to say.

(Soundbite of interview)

(Soundbite of song, "Billie Jean")

Mr. JACKSON: You become the bass. You become a fanfare. You become the clarinet and the flute and the strings and the drums.

Mr. MARTIN BASHIR (Journalist): So you're almost the physical embodiment of the music.

Mr. JACKSON: Yeah. Absolutely.

BLOCK: And he said that thinking is the biggest mistake you can make when you're dancing.

Mr. DANIEL: Yeah, you can't, because if you're going to rehearse something, if you're going to work on it, that's when you're working, you're doing it mentally. But now when you're performing, uh-uh, you got to go, you know, with the strings, with the drums, you become it and you feel it, and that's what it is.

BLOCK: Well, Jeffrey Daniel, thanks for sharing your memories with us.

Mr. DANIEL: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: Jeffrey Daniel choreographed Michael Jackson's videos for "Bad" and "Smooth Criminal." He joined us from London.

(Soundbite of song, "Smooth Criminal")

Mr. JACKSON: (Singing) Annie, are you okay? Are you okay, Annie? Annie, are you okay? Annie, are you okay? Are you okay, Annie? You've been hit by, you've been hit by a smooth criminal. Ow.

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