“Black or White” to Black and White: Dance History and the Music Video

IMAGE Toe Stand in Black Boots IMAGE

Photo by Travis Person

“The only thing new in dance is you.”

A friend shared that quote from an Ohio University professor years ago and it has stuck with me.  Every year I find myself chuckling to myself as I listen to kids claim movements as “their” choreography when really many are sampling from the limited palette of movement they’ve witnessed, usually music videos.

The question inevitably becomes- How do I get them interested in expanding their bubble?

In grad school, I had the privilege to study under Beth Genne, a dance scholar who says music videos are our most current examples of ballet d’action, a story “ballet” told through a collaboration of arts although not necessarily in the style of dance known as ballet. I don’t think all music videos support the comparison but the style of video made popular by Michael Jackson in the “Beat It” and “Thriller” era do, just as Genne discusses in her writings.

When working with kids, one particular challenge is inspiring them to see the benefit and value of learning about what came before- even, or perhaps especially, if it occurred in black and white.

Who better to draw them in and inspire rich dialogues about many topics in dance than Michael Jackson? Who can resist Michael Jackson’s anthems of 1980s American culture, his powerful use of film to bolster his hugely successful pop songs, and the influence he’s had on music and videos of today.

The “King of Pop” alone illustrates how the past influences the future in a way kids can easily follow and discuss. The beauty of this example is that you can trace influences forward as well as back, and this is how dance history can be introduced.

Here’s how you can expand the conversation:

Check out Nichelle’s tribute to Michael Jackson from 2009.

The following categories introduce conversations on the dance topics based on but not limited to “Beat It” and “Black and White”. Included in the categories are links to other Dance Advantage articles that may also offer additional insight or points of view.

The Development of Theatrical Dance

The Development of Dance Technique and Performance Philosophy

Presenting Dance and Relating Topics

  • Dance in film: using dance to propel the narrative story.
  • Dance in film: the directing and choreographic choices of such artists as Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Jerome Robbins, and more.
  • Dance on Camera: presenting dance in ways not possible in a traditional theatre setting.
  • Dance on Camera: introducing the work of artists such as Maya Deren, Charles Atlas, and more.
  • Sharing Dance via Youtube and Social Media
  • Are You Followin’ Me? How to get Twitter to Work for You
  • Influence versus Improper Use: Intellectual Property and Accessing Rights

Dance Ethnography

Where might this lead you?

OK Go and Pilobolus Assure Us ALL IS NOT LOST

Keeping the art of the music video alive for the YouTube generation, the band OK Go has kept us wondering what they’ve got up their sleeves since trenching on treadmills for their Here We Go Again video in 2006.

Even before the explosion of that video, though, the group used clever choreography in the visual accompaniment for their songs and made it clear they were unafraid to jump into the groove themselves.

IMAGE Ok Go and Pilobolus have a message for you... IMAGEThey’ve teamed up most recently with professional dance troupe, Pilobolus and Google, debuting an experiment last month that mixes old-school camera trickery with newfangled technology.

“Different shots are rendered in different browser windows that move, re-size and re-align throughout the piece. With HTML5’s canvas technology, these videos are drawn in perfect timing with the music.” It also allows you to embed a message of your choosing (like mine, captured in the image at right) into the music video – that is, if you’re using Google Chrome as your browser. [Read more about the collaboration at The Official Google Blog]

Try it out yourself by visiting www.allisnotlo.st. It’s definitely worth the free Google Chrome download, especially if you’re one of the many still browsing with Internet Explorer… you know who you are.

The video turns the work of Busby Berkeley on its head as the dancers and band members, shot from below, move in and out of kaleidoscopic shapes over a transparent floor. You can see it without the Chrome enhancements via YouTube:

OK Go + Pilobolus – All Is Not Lost – Official Video

Watch this video on YouTube.

In fact, you may have seen the collaboration performed live on the August 10th episode of America’s Got Talent. It’s not the first time the groups have recreated the visual magic for a live audience. OK Go and Pilobolus performed it during Pilobolus’ latest stint at New York’s Joyce Theater.

Itamar Kubovy, the executive director of Pilobolus, told the NY Times, “The band has an almost childlike wonder, and I think that’s a value of ours, as well.”

A great quality to have!

How can you inject a little childlike wonder into your next choreography, routine, or production?

In Sleep a King — Farewell to Michael Jackson

For those who are too young to remember him at the very height of his career, I’m sorry. There’s no questioning Michael Jackson’s influence on our current pop music and dance culture. His life was somewhat of a tragedy but his talent was a gift. So, in honor of this icon, I’m taking a moment to celebrate that gift.

A few videos.

First a collection of footage that clearly demonstrates the icon’s signature movement style and its relationship to today’s popular dance.

Second, one of my favorite Jackson tunes. It is impossible not to move when you hear a Michael Jackson song. That is the legacy within his body of work and the part of his life and career that will outlive everything else.

This song’s original music video is on YouTube and worth a watch. It is not embeddable. However, you can find it here.


Jackson was constantly nodding to the people before him while breaking ground ahead of him. I think this is the reason why all dancers have a special love for him. He was a dancer to be loved and a lover of dance himself.”

DanceNOWChicago has compiled an excellent series of YouTube videos that illustrate Jackson’s ties to the past. Visit the article NOW! You won’t regret it.

“Thy self thou gavest, thy own worth then not knowing,

Or me, to whom thou gavest it, else mistaking;

So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,

Comes home again, on better judgment making.

Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,

In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.” – William Shakespeare; Sonnet 87

Farewell, Michael!