You know what the world needs? More choreography like this:
And like this:
(Every year at my all-white junior high and high school, there was a talent show, and there were always two lip-synch acts, always Motown, always the most popular kids in school — the cheerleader girls did a Supremes/Martha & the Vandellas/Marvelettes, etc. number, and the jock boys did a Temptations/Four Tops, etc. song. I wonder how they learned the choreography, this being before YouTube and even videotape. No one ever noted the oddity of white kids dressed in matching orange tuxedos and/or sequined fishtail gowns, imitating black music acts. Berry Gordy really did bring the races together, didn’t he?)
I’m posting those clips because, as promised, I spent the weekend trying to ignore M.J., but a few nice pieces cut through the static, and one was written by Alistair Macaulay, the NYT dance critic, who looked at nothing but Jackson the dancer. Whenever someone names this or that MTV phenom as a great dancer, I always wonder how you could tell, as the quick-cut editing that defines music videos can make anyone look like a great dancer. Move, cut, move, cut, etc. — I always thought dancing was how you put the moves together. Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” is a pretty good example, and now that I watch it again I notice that the sustained shot at the beginning is a pretty long one, and could have been a stand-in. I take her word it’s really her, but music video, more than any other medium, took dance and chopped it up into a series of tricks. (Two-left-footed me could probably be made graceful with a good editor.) So it’s nice to watch these old J-5 performance clips and be reminded that in his case, it was real, and in that, I can start to find a little empathy with the departed.
Dancers and athletes thrill us with a few years of amazing physical feats, and too many spend the rest of their lives paying for it. A few years back, our late pal Ashley Morris tipped me to a story on a Hall of Fame running back, a man who once had thighs of an outrageous, fearsome circumference, who now cannot climb the stadium stairs to watch his own son play college ball, and I’m sorry but I can’t remember who it was. I once read an interview with Mikhail Baryshnikov, who talked about the constant pain that dancers live with, even young ones. He was in his 40s by then, long retired, but still took class when he could. One quote stuck with me: “A dancer knows what kind of day he’s going to have the moment he gets out of bed.” (Misha in “Giselle.”)
Anyway, Macaulay notes:
But to watch “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” (1979) is to be amazed at just how much charm the 20-year-old Mr. Jackson had, and the charm gets more infectious as the dancing proceeds. You begin by noticing the pelvis, doing its characteristic pulsation, and you recognize how close you are to the world of John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever.” Fairly soon, you take in the heels, or rather the action of the insteps that keeps rhythmically lifting the heels off the floor, and then, in various ways, you see the ripple of motion between feet and those very slender hips.
But Mr. Jackson was an upper-body dancer too: there’s a marvelous moment here when he tilts back and stays there. Now go to “Billie Jean” in Motown’s 25th-anniversary celebration (1983). You can see that already everything is much more choreographed, both in the bad sense of unspontaneous and the good sense of dance structure. Most of the time his dancing is so aflame you don’t feel any lack of freshness, and he’s so alert that you hardly have time to laugh — though I think you ought, happily — at the way his busy pelvis keeps hoisting his pants up and revealing his off-white socks. (The changing expanse of socks becomes part of the rhythm.)
“Busy pelvis” — now there’s a great name for a band. (Video HT: Hank.)
How was your weekend? We spent part of it traveling for the wrong reasons — Alan’s 94-year-old Aunt Martha, the last of the Smith sisters, his mom’s side, went to her reward last week, and the funeral was Saturday. “Reward” is literal when you’ve lived that long; we all agreed that the wind really went out of her sails when Alan’s mom died, followed by her last sibling, Dorothy, a few months later. The circle is closed, and the organist was instructed to dial back the mournful tone by 30 percent or so. The lunch and fellowship afterward took place among the still-standing structures of Vacation Bible School, which evidently had a class in Roman history — there were draped tents, plastic swords and CLOSED BY ORDER OF CAESAR AUGUSTUS signs here and there. They even had a little aqueduct made of shipping tubes sawed in half lengthwise.
Alan reports VBS is where he learned to sing, “Oh I’ve got joy joy joy joy down in my heart,” etc. VBS is a real Protestant tradition, ain’a, JeffTMMO? I had no such experience, although after years of CCD classes they’d have had to take me there in leg irons.
Oh, and we had a collective eye-roll over the last hours of Martha’s life: After her heart attack, she was taken to the local hospital, where, even though she had a DNR order, etc., they insisted on transporting her, BY HELICOPTER, to Toledo. They did the same thing to Alan’s mom, even though all agreed her case was hopeless and she would end her life in hospice care within a few days. The Toledo hospital is like the Atlanta airport — you can’t go anywhere without passing through their ER first. And we wonder why health-care costs are staggering.
Even though it’s Monday, it’s a fine and sunny day and I’ve got joy joy joy joy down in my heart. I think this is due to me getting more sleep, however. Off to bicycle through my weekly cop-shop rounds and find out where the bodies are buried. (Like they’d tell us. Hah.)