The late Michael Jackson immortalized the “Moonwalk” during his performance at Motown 25 in 1983, with breakdancing and pop locking-influenced dance moves that dazzled the world. However, the moonwalk might have been a later incarnation of a dance move allegedly invented by tap dancer Bill Bailey.
Bailey, born on December 8, 1912 in Newport News, Virginia is the older brother of late singer and actress Pearl Bailey. According to one bio, Bailey began dancing in his preacher father’s church. He was also reportedly taught tap dancing by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
As a singer, dancer and entertainer, Bailey performed with his sister, Blanche Calloway, sister of Cab Calloway, and was a fixture at the world famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. Bailey also acted in a handful of films, including Cabin In The Sky, the first recorded version of the moonwalk move. Recently, a 1955 video of Bailey performing at the Apollo and executing what he reportedly called the “Backslide” has surfaced.
Other tap dancers emulated the move in their own fashion, with some writers saying that Calloway himself did a version of the move in the ’30’s, then known as “The Buzz.” Actresses Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien performed the dance in the movie, Meet Me In St. Louis and it showed up in other places throughout the years.
As breakdancing and pop-locking became more advanced in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s, the dance took on the form of the smooth and graceful style that Jackson used. After Motown 25 The Moonwalk became Jackson’s best known dance maneuvers and was associated with the superstar from that point forward.