Revisiting Michael Jackson’s First Moonwalk


In honor of the 6-year anniversary of the untimely passing of The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, we’re revisiting a pivotal moment in music history: the night the gloved one first unveiled his signature dance move: The Moonwalk.

When world first saw Michael Jackson moonwalk, time all but stopped. A dance move became the single cultural focus around the world. The year was 1984, and Jackson appeared at the Motown 25th Anniversary event at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in support of the ultimate-legend record Thriller. He performed “Billie Jean” – which was then the number one song in the country at the time. But it wasn’t the song people were raving about when the special aired on television. 

It was arguably the most notable high point in his career, but Michael was initially reluctant to perform at the concert. His label was CBS Records, and producers on the Motown special wanted him to play the old Jackson 5 hits with his brothers – the songs on the Motown label. Agreeing to the medley on the condition of “Billie Jean”’s inclusion, Jackson did his family duty, despite his rapid ascent to icon status as a solo artist. And when it was time for his solo performance, the only song of the night not released by Motown, there was a new electricity to him. 

The moonwalk came quickly towards the end of “Billie Jean”. Jackson may not have originated the concept (James Brown and others have performed variations in previous years), but he made it his signature move that night with a streak of dancing perfection. The entire world took notice, as the man walked backwards, while gliding across the floor smoothly, as if walking forward. In the pre-internet age, jaws hit floors without a flicker of cynicism or doubt, and the performance-artist ante was upped forever more.