Michael Jackson the dancer moved us beyond measure; among other gifts, Jackson was dance genius, too
Of all the ways that Michael Jackson will be remembered, pop music genius is deservedly at the top of the list.
But for anyone with even the slightest appreciation for dance, his hip pops rank right up there with his hooks.
It's a move he pulls out in the video for "Billie Jean" - he springs up onto his toes, knees bent, leaning back and pelvis thrust forward so that his body forms an angle, one line from head to thigh before breaking at the knees.
It's simple and it only lasts an instant.
The angularity and Jackson's feet - in a position known to dancers as forced arch - could be from an early work by modern dance pioneer Martha Graham, but Jackson imbues the move with a smooth sensuality that owes more to Broadway choreographer Bob Fosse.
But references to dance history don't do it justice. Anyone who's seen the video would instantly associate it with Jackson. A mark of a great dancer, he made any movement he did look completely his own.
"Even if it wasn't a movement that he created, even if he wasn't doing for the first time, he made it look brand new," says Ronni Favors, the rehearsal director at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater since 1997.
At first there might seen to be little connection between a modern dance company - even a wildly popular one like Alvin Ailey - and Jackson. But he has a strong link to this company in particular.
Michael Peters, a Tony-winning choreographer for "Dreamgirls" in 1981 and an Ailey dancer in the 1960s and 70s, contributed choreography for "Beat It," in which he danced the role of the villain in the white jacket alongside other dancers culled from Ailey's ranks. Peters also danced in "Thriller."
Jackson transcended boundaries between street dancing - where he picked up the moonwalk - and dancing as a high-culture art form in a way no one had before.
"No dancer has done as much to popularize the art form since Fred Astaire," said Tavia Nyongo, a professor in the performance studies program at New York University and an expert on pop culture.
According to Jackson lore, Astaire himself called him up to tell him just what a sensational dancer he was.
While radio stations are playing marathons of Jackson's greatest hits, he's also being memorialized in steps; the moves from "Beat It" at the BET Awards, the "Thriller" dance performed by prisoners in Manila, the Philippines and a group moonwalk at the Eiffel Tower in Paris.