How to do the michael jackson beat it dance
Doctors explain Michael Jackson's impossible dance move
Image source, Manjul Tripathi
Neurosurgeons have described in detail how Michael Jackson achieved biomechanically impossible dance moves in his music video Smooth Criminal.
In the 1987 routine, Michael leans from the ankle at a 45 degree angle, while keeping his body straight as a rod.
The illusion, which many have tried to copy, was thanks to specially designed shoes and the artist's core strength.
The spine experts warn others against attempting the potentially injurious but mind-boggling move.
Manjul Tripathi and colleagues from the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India, say in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine: "Most trained dancers with strong core strength will reach a maximum of 25 to 30 degrees of forward bending while performing this action. MJ pulled off a gravity-defying 45 degree move that seems unearthly to any witness."
Image source, RUBEN RAMOS
How MJ did it
If a person were to attempt the Smooth Criminal lean, they would notice that the bulk of the strain to strike the pose moves to the Achilles tendon in each ankle, rather than the erector spinae muscles of the back.
This allows for only a very limited degree of forward bend, even for someone matching Michael's strong athletic abilities, explains Assistant Prof Tripathi.
Michael got the extra degrees of tilt thanks to some fancy footwear.
A v-shaped slit in the bottom of each heel of his spats slotted onto a strong nail or "hitch member" driven into the ground, allowing the dancer to pivot and lean further forward, for the gravity-defying move.
Image source, Manjul Tripathi
Prior to the patented footwear invention, Michael had relied on supporting cables and a harness around his waist to create the illusion.
It's said that he and two Hollywood colleagues borrowed the footwear idea from US astronauts' boots, which can be docked to a fixed rail when working in zero gravity.
But even with specially designed footwear and the support of the hitch member, the move is incredibly hard to pull off, requiring athletic core strength from strengthened spinal and lower-limb muscles, say the doctors.
"Several MJ fans, including the authors, have tried to copy this move and failed, often injuring themselves in their endeavours," they caution.
Dr Tripathi said: "The chances of injury to the ankle are significant. You need strong core muscles and good support around the ankle. It's not a simple trick."
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Bob Giraldi on directing "Beat It" :: True Michael Jackson
Homepage > True stories > Bob Giraldi on directing "Beat It"
In 1983, Michael Jackson scored two simultaneous Top 5 hits with the songs "Billie Jean" and "Beat It", both taken from his hugely successful Thriller album. The music videos for both songs are now legendary and helped break down musical and racial barriers on then-nascent MTV.
At the time, executives at Jackson's label, CBS Records, famously accused the channel's programmers of excluding black artists and R&B music - an accusation MTV continues to deny. Regardless, "Beat It" and "Billie Jean" received heavy airplay and set a standard for production values and choreography in music videos that lasted until the music industry meltdown 20 years later.
In "Beat It", the 25-year-old pop star was cast as a peacemaker who uses dance to quell a knife fight between a two warring gangs. The video, which featured a cast of real-life gang members and choreography by Michael Peters, was directed by Bob Giraldi, who would go on to direct Jackson in two Pepsi commercials for BBDO, New York.
Giraldi recently spoke to Boards about working with Crips, Bloods and choreographers to make "Beat It."
How did you end up directing the video for "Beat It"?
As I was told, there was a certain spot that I directed in my early years as a commercial director for WLS-TV in Chicago, about two elderly blind people - a married couple - that didn't run from a neighborhood that all the other white folks fled from. It had become a very inner city, tough neighborhood and they chose to stay and throw a block party for all the young kids in the neighborhood. It was a commercial that Michael was really taken with - it was an emotional commercial, it was based on truth and he liked it a lot. So he wanted to meet and we met.
I wanted "Billie Jean" and he had just finished shooting "Billie Jean", but he said he had this track called "Beat It" and maybe I'd like to come up with an idea for that. In those days, you didn't compete [for videos]. There were no three bids - there wasn't a whole lot of politics. Record labels didn't have commissioners, it was a different business. It wasn't a business yet.
What did you base the concept on?
One of the things that is totally mistaken that I've read many times is that most people think "Beat It" was inspired by West Side Story and that's absolutely not true at all.
I grew up in Paterson, New Jersey - always an edgy town but full of people really trying to be so much tougher than they really are. It seemed to me this song of peace, this song of reconciliation that Michael had written was perfect for a quasi kind of rumble. I've read where, the two lead dancers - Michael Peters and Vince Paterson - when they had their wrists tied and held the switchblades, that came from West Side Story. That's not true at all. That came from a story I heard when I worked in a factory one summer. A real tough kid from Jersey told me that he'd witnessed two guys who had their wrists tied and they held switchblades, and only one came out - and not too well. It was based on that little fable.
Michael liked my idea and decided he was going to include the Crips and Bloods, which I thought was insane. If you see the video, you'll see guys that look like the real deal because they are the real deal.
How did you cast the real gang members?
It was Michael. He went out and he got 'em through, I guess, the LAPD's gang squad and he convinced them that, with enough police presence, this would be a smart and charitable thing to do; get them there to like each other and hang with each other for two days doing the video. I didn't like the idea because it was hard enough to direct actors and dancers, let alone hoods.
So he tried to use the video to foster peace between them?
Michael was always about peace. He was always about some sort of peace offering. That was his idea and the cops did go along with it and as history has it, we were almost shut down the first night because, as you know, film sets get to be very boring after the first hour.
I guess the Crips and Bloods started to get on each other's nerves - they are mortal enemies - and we had a few incidents and two cops came to me and said they wanted to close it down. I somehow convinced the cop squad guy to just let me [shoot the] dance. I was gonna hold the dance for the second night of shooting. I said, 'The only thing I can think that'll save this is to let me just blast the music. I have a feeling it'll calm everything down. Can't get any worse, just give me a chance.' And the cop was cool, he looked at me and said, 'OK, not much more. ' I couldn't go much more because it was volatile - no question about it - and scary. So we were in that warehouse, change of plans we're going to do the dance, get Michael out of the camper, here we go.
What happened next?
The gang members couldn't dance so they formed the ring and watched. And the [dancers] all started to dance with Michael Peters and Vince Paterson. When Michael Jackson comes down and does what he does, I remember looking at the faces of all the Crips and Bloods lined up and their expressions as they listened to that music and watched those kids dance. Those kids were basically, most of them were gay... and when they started to dance, the Crips and the Bloods had that look like, 'You know what? With all our wars and vendettas and stuff, that's cool right there. That's something we'll never be able to do.' And that's what made that evening work.
Did Michael Jackson choreograph the video himself?
That is the one time that I can honestly say Michael Jackson did not choreograph. 'Beat It' was choreographed by Michael Peters - God rest his soul - a great, great choreographer who is no longer alive. He was an incredible street dancer, he choreographed that and Michael Jackson danced it and danced it beautifully. I think from that point on Michael Jackson probably was involved in the choreography in every single thing he did. 'Beat It' was a little bit more belonging to Michael Peters than people want to give credit for.
In those days MTV had an unspoken policy of not playing videos by black artists. What impact did "Beat It" and "Billie Jean" have when they came out?
It was taking video to another level with dance and choreography and the fact that Epic, CBS could put down on the desk that these two were the largest selling records in the world. It was hard for Les Garland and [Bob] Pittman to hold on to that original idea, which was [playing] new wave bands for white teens in the suburbs. Michael was given credit, and rightly so, for being the first really, truly crossover artist of our generation and the man who forced MTV by his genius to rethink it's platform.
What impact has "Beat It" and working with Michael Jackson had on your career?
I met a man who I have total respect for. One of the most interesting things he ever said to me, I'll never forget, we were arguing, he said to me in that very high-pitched voice of his, 'You use the F-word to much'. That always stuck with me. I thought that was smart to say at a time like that.
I watched a man dance better than anyone I'd ever seen in my life and I watched a man talk softly and carry a tremendously big stick, get what he wanted and get his way. And as we know now 25 years later, perhaps he got his way too much. But nonetheless, I watched him get his way but always using the softest, quietest approach you could possibly have used. I was influenced not only by his talent, but by his personality.
Once again about Beat It
The director of Beat It remembers.
Michael Jackson was a fearless peacemaker and creative genius. He wanted the Beat It video to be as close to reality as possible. So, and this created a lot of difficulties for the director, Michael worked with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to bring in real gang members for the shoot. This created difficulties, and the tension was strong. They had to take one last shot before the police wanted to cover it all up. At the end, when the choreography of the dance scene included Michael Jackson along with other dancers, their amazing talent changed hatred into discreet respect, and the gang members truly applauded, no one was injured in any way. nine0007
In addition to putting Michael through an experiment that sometimes made his hair stand on end because he had to work with real street thugs during filming, Michael left the director Bob Giraldi one last piece of advice, which he said in his unforgettable high voice: '' You use the F-word too much''.
A short interview with director Bob Giraldi:
What was the concept behind the video based on?
- I have had to deal with the same error many times, which I have read many times. Most people think that Beat It was inspired by the movie West Side Story. This is absolutely false. nine0007 I grew up in Paterson, New Jersey - as is often the case in small towns, most people want to be tougher than they really are. So it seemed to me that this song about peace, the song about reconciliation that Michael wrote, could best be illustrated by a fight between the gangs. I've read that the part where the two lead dancers - Michael Peters and Vince Paterson - tie their wrists and pull out their knives, comes from West Side Story. This is absolutely not true. This was taken from a story I heard when I was working in a factory one summer. A real Jersey hooligan told me that he himself witnessed two guys tying their wrists and pulling out knives, only one got away alive and was also wounded. The video was based on this short story. nine0007 Michael liked my idea. And he decided that he wanted real gang members to take part in the filming. This idea seemed crazy to me. When you watch the video, you see guys who look like real thugs because they really are.
How did you select real gang members?
Michael did it. He went out to them and he passed through them. I assume that the LAPD anti-bandit squad was present there. Michael assured them that with sufficient police presence, the filming would be safe. Michael also pursued the idea that this filming might somehow reconcile the members of the various factions, as they would be next to each other for two days while the filming was going on. I didn't like this idea, because it's very difficult to direct the actors and dancers together, to put them in one shot. nine0005
So Michael was trying to use the footage to promote reconciliation between them?
Michael was always thinking about how to bring peace. He always thought of offering a truce between the people. It was his idea. The police had to follow exactly his instructions. The story behind it all is that we were on the verge of having the filming canceled on the very first night. Due to the fact that filming a film is a very boring task after the first hour of work. nine0005
I suspect that the guys from those gangs started to get a little nervous about each other, because they were mortal enemies. We have had several incidents. Two policemen came up to me and said they wanted to close this shop. I somehow managed to convince the guys from the police squad to let me film the dance scene. I was supposed to shoot this scene on the second day. I said, ''The only thing that can save the day is if you let me turn on the music. I'm sure this will put everyone at ease. It won't make things worse. Just give me a chance.'' And the cop didn't blunder, he looked at me and said, ''OK, but nothing more''. I wouldn't do anything more because the situation was explosive and really scary. So we were in this warehouse, in a situation where we had to change our dance schedule. Michael was called from his van. We started...
What happened next?
The gang guys couldn't dance, so they formed a circle and watched. The dancers started dancing with Michael Peters and Vince Paterson. When Michael Jackson went downstairs and started doing what he does in the movie, I remember looking at the faces of all the bandits - they just STRETCHED out and expressed an indescribable impression of the music that sounded, I saw that the children were dancing. These kids, most of them were funny... and when they started dancing, these street hooligans, it looked like they were saying, 'You know what? With all our wars and vendettas and other weapons, it's great to be here. It's something we've never been able to do. '' And that was what our work did that evening. nine0007
Who was the choreographer of Beat It?
This is the only time I can honestly say that Michael was not the choreographer of his video. Michael Peters was the choreographer of Beat It, a great choreographer who is no longer alive. He was an incredible street dancer and he came up with the choreography for Beat It and Michael danced it and danced great. I have heard that Michael was involved in the creation of all the dances that accompanied each of his singles. Regarding Beat It, I can say that for the first time it was not so. Beat It belonged a little more to Michael Peters than people want to believe. nine0007
How did shooting Beat It and working with Michael affect your career?
I met a man who had total respect. One of the most interesting things he said to me, which I will never forget, we discussed our work with him, he told me this in his unforgettable high voice: ''You use F-word too much''. (''You also use the F-word very often.'') This stuck with me forever. I think it was very smart to tell me at THAT time. nine0007
I saw a person who danced the best I have ever seen in my life and I saw a person who spoke so softly and had such a strong core inside him to achieve what he wants and do it the way he wants. .. He has always taken the gentlest approach to achieving his goal. I have always been impressed not only by his talent, but also by his personality.
Beat It filming interview: mj_ru — LiveJournal
On the same topic, I really liked Beat It director Bob Giraldi's story about how the video was filmed. The interview is not new, but maybe someone hasn't seen it:
How did you get to direct the video for "Beat It"?
I'm told it all started with a commercial for WLS-TV that I shot early in my directing career in Chicago. The advertisement was about two blind elderly people, a married couple who did not want to leave their home area when all the other white residents left there. Their neighborhood has become impoverished and turned into a crime, and they decided to stay and throw a party for all the youth in the area. This advertisement fascinated Michael: it turned out to be touching and based on a true story - he really liked it. So he wanted to meet, and we met. nine0005
I wanted "Billie Jean" but it had just finished filming so Michael said he had another song called "Beat It" and if I could come up with something for it. In those days, there was no competition for video clips: there were no tenders for directing, and in general there were no established principles of work in terms of filming. The record companies didn't have commissioners, the business was different. Or rather, then it has not yet become a business.
How was the video concept born? nine0016
One of the most common misconceptions I've come across in the press is that "Beat It" was inspired by West Side Story. This is absolutely not true.
I grew up in Paterson, New Jersey - it was a hectic place full of people trying to be cooler than they are. It seemed to me that this song written by Michael about reconciliation, about settling the conflict, is ideally suited for this kind of “as if” showdown. I've read that the moment where the two lead dancers, Michael Peters and Vince Paterson, get their wrists tied and switchblades out, comes from West Side Story. It is not true. It was born from a story I heard at the factory one summer. A tough guy from Jersey told me that he saw two guys fighting with knives with their wrists tied, and only one of them came out of the fight alive, and even then far from unharmed. The scene was based on this bike. nine0005
Michael liked my idea and decided to bring in the Crips and Bloods, which I thought was crazy. If you watch the video, you will see that the guys there look like real bandits. This is because they are bandits.
How did you conduct the casting among bandits?
That's all Michael. He went into it and found them, I think, through the LAPD's Street Crime Squad. He convinced the authorities that, provided there were enough police, it would be a wise and virtuous move to bring the gangs together so that they could befriend and socialize with each other for a couple of days on the set of the video. I was against this idea: it was already hard with actors and dancers, I still lacked hooligans. nine0005
So he tried to reconcile them with the video?
Michael has always stood for peace. He always came up with some kind of reconciliation proposal. It was his idea, the cops agreed, and in the end we were almost forced to cancel the shooting on the first night, because, as you know, after an hour on the set it gets very boring.
Crips and Bloods must have started to get on each other's nerves - they are mortal enemies. We had several incidents, and two cops came up to me and said that we need to stop this. I somehow persuaded the head of the police department to allow me to film only the dance. (The original plan was to shoot it on the second night.) I said, “I think the only way to save the day is if you let me play the music. I think it will lighten the atmosphere. It definitely won't get worse, give me a chance." The cop turned out to be accommodating, he looked at me and said: "Okay, but that's it." I didn't mind because the atmosphere was no doubt tense and intimidating. And here we are in this warehouse, plans change, filming the dance, calling Michael from the van...
What happened next?
The gang members couldn't dance, so they stood in a circle and watched. And the actors began to dance, led by Michael Peters and Vince Paterson. When Michael Jackson came out and started doing what he was doing there according to the script, I remember looking at the faces of these Crips and Bloods lined up and watching the guys dance to the music. These guys, well… a lot of them were gay. But when they started dancing, the guys from Crips and Bloods had these faces... Like they were saying, “You know what? With all our wars, vendettas, etc., this is cool! We'll never be able to do that." The evening was saved. nine0005
Was Michael Jackson the dance director himself?
This is the only time I can honestly say that Michael Jackson was not a choreographer. "Beat It" was choreographed by Michael Peters - God rest his soul - by a great, great choreographer who is no longer alive. He was amazing at street dancing, he put on a number, and Michael Jackson danced it, and he danced excellently. I think from that moment on, Michael Jackson, probably, participated in the production of each of his dances. But "Beat It" belonged to Michael Peters a little more than is usually acknowledged. nine0005
In those days MTV had an unspoken rule not to show videos of black artists. When "Beat It" and "Billie Jean" came out, what influence did they have?
They took the video to a new level - through dance, staging. Epic, CBS got a killer argument: these two records became the world's top sellers. Le Garland and Bob Pittman (the founders of MTV) found it difficult to stick to their original position, which was to play only New Wave bands for white teenagers from wealthy families. Michael is deservedly considered the first artist of our generation to truly bridge different musical styles, and the man who, with his genius, forced MTV to rethink the principles. nine0005
How has "Beat It" and working with Michael influenced your career?
I met a man whom I respect completely.