Robot Mime Man

When Michael Jackson was living out his first decade of life in Gary, Indiana, young people were being introduced to prehistoric and space-age inventions, delivered on after-school TV. In the early 1960′s, long after the dinosaurs morphed into buffaloes, and well before Neil Armstrong thrilled the world with the first real moonwalk, The Flintstones emerged from their cave. Being a future back-to-the-lander, I was intrigued by Fred and Wilma, who were parents of a Stone Age family. They were a perfect “down-to-earth” model of Mom and Dad. They were more fascinating than Beaver Cleaver’s parents, but whether they were more primitive than Ralph and Alice Kramden on Jackie Gleason’s, The Honeymooners is debatable.

My guess is that young Michael Jackson was more likely impressed with the space-age ideas and robotic movements of The Jetson’s.  I can imagine his little frame practicing robot moves early on.

33 second robot/mime in private home studio

The Jetsons launched on the tail of The Flintstones, and according to Wikipedia, “at the time of its debut, it was the first program ever to be broadcast in color on ABC-TV…While the Flintstone family lived in a world with machines powered by birds and dinosaurs, the Jetsons lived in a futuristic utopia in the year 2062 of elaborate robotic contraptions, aliens, holograms, and whimsical inventions.” The Jetsons presented an exciting, imaginative vision of the future…a future not exactly of this world, but one waiting to unfold. I used to imagine that by the time I had children of my own, we might benefit from the services of a humanoid robot-maid like “Rosie” who the Jetson family acquired as a discounted floor model. Over the decades following my after-school education in TV-Land, I have, in fact, witnessed the Jetson family’s lifestyle coming to life before my eyes.

While The Flintstones juxtaposed modern antiseptic reality with prehistoric dinosaur culture using bones for kitchen utensils, The Jetsons offered fuel for a child’s imagination that someday Earthlings could meet Martians, or at least we might exercise on running treadmill belts, or share face-to-face communication through a TV-like screen while talking on the telephone. These animations gave youngsters food for thought about the modern 1960′s culture outside the boob tube. I feel certain that Michael Jackson was influenced like the rest of us.

Michael was less than 5 years old when The Flintstones and The Jetsons first aired, so he was likely exposed to reruns. Keep in mind, this was before UFO was a household word, and before the likes of E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, not-to-mention Star Wars. Since the topic of this post is related to robots, and I have already illustrated the notion that robots in Michael’s day were a pretty far-out concept, let’s explore robotic moves in dance.

The history of Robot dancing spans over a period of about 60 years through an evolution of jazz moves into funk and rock inspired by Elvis’ loose legs and knee-knocks and Chubby Checker’s Twist. In the late 60′s and early 70′s Michael would have been profoundly influenced by the newly developing street-dance form calledLocking” or “Campbellocking” that started with improvisational steps called locks created by Don Campbell in the nightclubs of Los Angeles, and on the streets of Watts in LA. Campbell organized a group called, “The Lockers” which became one of the most dynamic, influential groups in the history of street-dancing. It has been said that these West Coast underground dance masters changed the world forever. Locking, and it’s subculture where modern rap finds it’s roots, became the rage of the new Afro American owned television dance show called Soul Train. A dancer named Charles “Robot” Washington was an original member of “the Soul Train Gang.” He had developed the robot moves which fourteen year old Michael and his brothers, as The Jackson 5, popularized by their appearances on Soul Train. No doubt Michael developed relationships with many of the accomplished Soul Train dancers, thereby honing and further refining his skills.

MJ has been mesmerizing his audiences with robotic moves since his teen years in the early 1970′s. The biggest contribution the Jackson5 made to choreography began when innovative Michael started making what has become his signature “robot” moves. While singing “Dancing Machine” in 1973 on Soul Train, Michael greatly popularized this dance technique, which catalyzed a whole new era of dance, and eventually led to hip-hop, popping, break-dancing and countless sub-genres.

Play videos simultaneously with the LEFT video sound OFF

Michael continued to expand and refine these moves, eventually incorporating them with mime.

Everybody knows, or ought to know, that nobody’ll ever do it like “THE MAN”, but there sure are a LOT of people who enjoy trying. MJ used to take great delight in watching people imitate him, just like his mentors were honored by Michael glorifying their innovations.

“I’ve always loved to dance. When I was just real little I used to watch Sammy Davis, Fred Astaire, James Brown… and just dancing about the house.” ~Michael Jackson

Michael learned a lot from the greats who paved the way before him. He worked diligently to expand on their unique styles.

“I don’t wanna be just another can in the assembly line, you know? I want to, you know… create. Do something that’s totally different and unusual.” ~Michael Jackson

Marcel Marceau and Charlie Chaplin are also major inspirations behind Michael’s robot moves. Their influence surely lit a fire under his dancing feet. 

These short clips are power-packed:

“The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.” ~Michael Jackson

Marcel Marceau with Michael in NYC 1995

“And my goal in life is to give to the world what I was lucky to receive: the ecstasy of divine union through my music and my dance.” ~Michael Jackson

Marcel Marceau’s influence on Michael’s dance

“You can’t teach that, you can’t teach it. It has to come from inside. It’s a gift.” ~Michael Jackson

Live in Copenhagen–GREAT robot moves

“That’s what drives me. It’s the medium, it’s the art. I love it. And that’s the world I’m most comfortable in.” ~Michael Jackson

Various innovative dance moves

“I don’t know if it’s the psychology, whatever or what. I just love working hard on something, putting it together, sweating over it and sharing it with people and having them love it. And I always pray that they like it. And that’s what give me great satisfaction as an artist.” ~Michael Jackson

Little Mike joined the ranks with the great dance masters very early on.

“I was a veteran, before I was a teenager.” ~Michael Jackson

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