The Science Behind Michael Jackson's Gravity-Defying Smooth Criminal Dance Move

Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" first arrived on the scene in the 1987 album "Bad," and had tremendous success as a single (via In the song, a "smooth criminal" attacks a woman named Annie by sneaking into her home through the window. "He came into her apartment / He left the bloodstains on the carpet," Jackson sang, followed by repeated and desperate calls of "Are you ok, Annie?"

An action-packed "Smooth Criminal" music video was created for "Moonwalker," Jackson's 1988 movie. He sings and dances in a seedy joint surrounded by 1920s gangsters and flappers. According to Michael Jackson's website, "Al Capone" was the song's original title. The pop star throws a coin into a jukebox from across the room, fights assailants with ease, crushes a cue ball with his bare hands, blasts a machine gun, and other wild acts (via YouTube). But about seven minutes in, Jackson and his supporting dancers do the impossible.

Now Watch The Way I Lean

Michael Jackson debuted his gravity-defying lean in the "Smooth Criminal" music video. Feet planted on the floor, spine ramrod straight, he leaned forward 45 degrees, in a move that should have ruptured his Achilles tendons, caused a full faceplant, or both. According to NPR, most ordinary folks can lean 20 degrees, while trained dancers can achieve 25 to 30 degrees. How did Jackson, and his dancers, accomplish this?

Well, mostly they cheated. They wore specially-designed shoes with slots on the soles, which would lock with a hitch that was attached to the floor (via NPR). This support prevented them from falling forward and took pressure off the dancers' tendons and calves. However, researchers have determined (yes, Jackson's moves have sparked serious study in scientific journals) that there still existed a good deal of pressure on the Achilles, so performing this stunt took admirable core and lower body strength. Therefore, the answer lies not only in invention but also in strength training and conditioning.

Otherworldly Inspiration

Remarkably, when Michael Jackson performed live, he would hit his mark at the same time a hitch raised out of the floor of the stage, and the pieces would connect without the audience noticing (via NPR). This has to be one of the greatest magic tricks ever performed in concert. Interestingly, according to the BBC, the footwear may have been inspired by astronaut boots, which can be locked onto a shuttle surface during spacewalks.

Jackson patented the shoe in 1993, according to CNN. Though that later helped blow the secret, his moves have continued to push dancers to explore the boundaries of the physically possible. Some even sustain serious injuries attempting to replicate the lean without the shoe mechanisms.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other Michael Jackson moves that the human body can actually do without assistance. We recommend learning how to moonwalk via tutorials on YouTube. It's a little safer and will impress your audience just as much.