Scientists Reveal the Secret Behind Michael Jackson's Legendary Antigravity Lean

Michael Jackson's 45-degree tilt dance move in the Smooth Criminal video has stumped experts for years until its secrets were unlocked by three neurosurgeons.
Jessica Miley

Michael Jackson reinvented dance during his heyday in the late 80s and 90s. But one dance move above all other has continued to baffle dancers and scientist alike - the 45-degree lean. 

The move was first seen in 1987 film clip for the classic hit, Smooth Criminal. Now after years of deliberation, scientists have revealed the secret behind this famous Jackson move. 

Rather than a specific dance move, the lean is actually a clever illusion invented by the dancer himself. For years dancers and sports scientists had deliberated about how Jackson could allow his body to tilt so far forward without toppling. 

Professionals tried to copy - but failed

The move was repeated many times during Jackson's live performances, and despite many professional dancers trying to emulate the move, they were unable to do so. Somw came close to perfecting a similar tilt move, but none could move their body past 25-30 degrees, whereas Jackson clearly tilts to an astounding 45 degrees.


Now a team of 3 neurosurgeons have dedicated themselves to the task of trying to figure out the secret of the Jackson move. First, the scientists broke down the move to understand what muscles are used. 

They described in their paper, published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine that during the move, the strain of the body is shifted from the erector spine muscles that support the spinal column to the Achilles tendon. 

Dancers need to shift muscle strain

“This allows for a very limited degree of forward bending from the ankle joints, while keeping a stiff straight posture – unless you are Michael Jackson. MJ pulled off a gravity-defying 45 degree move that seems unearthly to any witness,” they say.

However, it seems Jackson didn’t possess super strong Achilles, instead a patent held by the entertainer casts light on the secret. The King of Pop had a special shoe designed that has a triangular hook under the heel. 

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This wedge shape hooked into a special peg on the stage floor that is raised up at just the right moment. The shoes are fitted and the incredible lean is complete. While Jackson was aided by this clever design feature, the scientist says, the move still required incredible upper body strength. 

Scientists Reveal the Secret Behind Michael Jackson's Legendary Antigravity Lean
Source: Manjul Tripathi via Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine 

MJ had tricks and infinite levels of talent

The trio explained, “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 muscles and lower-limb anti-gravity muscles.” 

The authors were quick to note that while some fans may be disappointed to learn the dance move was more than just bodily skill, Jackson contributed enormously to the world of dance and movement. "Ever since MJ entertained us with his fabulous moves, throughout the world dancers have tried to jump higher, stretch farther, and turn faster than ever before,” the scientists say.

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