*The moonwalk wasn’t the only dance that existed for some time before Michael Jackson did it on national television and took it to astronomical heights.
Forty-seven years ago today, performing with his brothers on “Soul Train,” 15-year-old Michael started doing the robot, or “roboting,” during the music break of the Jackson 5 song “Dancing Machine.” The moment is widely credited as bringing the robot into the mainstream of popular dances.
Michael may have mastered the robot, but he wasn’t the first to do it. Folks were roboting in the 1920s, when it was done without music and called “miming.” In the late 60s, the great Robert Shields came along. He put music behind his robotics and miming to become the face of the new dance style.
After Michael Jackson broke out his robot on the Nov. 3, 1973 episode of “Soul Train,” he kept the momentum going in early ’74 during the Jackson 5’s performance of “Dancing Machine” on “The Mike Douglas Show”…
…and on the “Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.” Below, Cher tells Radioscope about Michael trying in vain to teach her the robot for their dance number.
Moving into the late 70s and early 80s, hip hop dancers known as “poppers” started to emerge, incorporating the robot into their syncopated popping and locking. “Soul Train” dancer Charles “Robot” Washington became famous for his robotics beamed into millions of living rooms every Saturday afternoon.
To bring this full circle, a pit stop in 1982 is necessary to acknowledge the moment that Shalamar’s Jeffrey Daniel (a former “Soul Train” dancer) did both the robot and what became known as the moonwalk on UK’s “Top of the Pops.” His robot and slow popping and locking were moves never before seen by the Brits. Weeks later, Daniel was asked to come back on the show and do the dances again because their minds were so blown.
In fact, the moment was so huge that Michael Jackson caught wind as he was preparing to perform “Billie Jean” for the first time on the upcoming “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever” special.
Below, Daniel details his “Top of the Pops” robot experience and teaching Michael how to “backslide” for his upcoming TV performance.