Mention the “moonwalk” to your friends and they’ll automatically say Michael Jackson. But it wasn’t the King of Pop who started that cool backwards sliding motion. He just made it popular.
Jackson mentions James Brown and Fred Astaire when asked about his dance influences but here’s another man you’ve probably never heard of. This was back in 1955.
His name is Bill Bailey.
Taken at The Apollo Theatre in New York, this vintage clip shows Bill tap dancing with incredible rhythm before ending his performance with the iconic move which he called the “backslide”.
He is considered to be one of the best rhythm dancers of his time.
Bill was an avid admirer of Bill Robinson’s “up on the toes” and upright style of tap dancing, and also of the flat-footed, paddle-and-roll style of King Rastus Brown. Both styles showed in his work.
There’s also something very refreshing when watching these old videos.
The black and white screen, the crisp audio, and really sharp sound of tap dancing shoes mixed with the audience’s applause just hits you with nostalgia. Even though some of us weren’t born yet.
It was in Motown 25 in 1983 when Michael Jackson immortalized the iconic moonwalk, spinning and thrusting his hips before easing in to position and sliding backwards effortlessly.
Jackson made it cool. But Bailey was way ahead of him.
They say that it was Bill with the first recorded moonwalk but this man was an amazing tap dancer. Look how quickly he taps to the music, never once missing a beat. He was a real entertainer!
Even a viewer says so,
“Please don’t skip ahead of time! The moonwalk DOES happen, but at the end of the video! But please watch the video! Carve out 2 or 3 minutes to see phenomenal tap dancing! I PROMISE it won’t hurt!”
This clip has 10,694,064 views as of posting with 114,000 likes. They watched it!
Bill has that knack of controlling his audience. He’s able to increase and decrease the tempo all by movements of his limbs. The music doesn’t really change. It’s Bailey’s body english.
Another viewer shared this interesting piece of information.
“Michael Jackson only learned it from street dancers which MJ give credits to his book saying that they teach him how to do that, then he enhanced the dance to add more illusion to it. And of course this video shows the origin of where the moonwalk came from. “Study the greats and become greater. “ “The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.” —Michael Jackson
It’s only towards the end that the band starts playing an uptempo piece, prompting Bailey to showcase his incredible talent before using the moonwalk as his exit. And what an exit it was!
You won’t ever look at the moonwalk the same way again. Bill Bailey is just one among many who brought dancing to another level. This was the fifties, where cultural norms and gender roles were still pretty old fashioned.
Bill’s backslide paved the way forward.
Enjoy this short dance clip of Bill Bailey below, his moonwalk is awesome!
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