PGI doctors unravel the secret behind Michael Jackson’s famous moves
Most trained dancers with strong core strength will reach a maximum of 25 degrees to 30 degrees of forward bending while performing this action. But MJ pulled off a gravity-defying 45 degree move that seems unearthly.Updated: May 24, 2018, 00:05 IST
Did Michael Jackson really achieve the impossible when he leaned forward 45 degrees while keeping his spine straight, using only his feet to prevent him from keeling over. While generations of dancers have tried to emulate his moves and many have ended up hurting themselves, doctors at Chandigarh’s PGIMER have finally revealed the secret behind this move.
Fascinated by the pop singer’s impossible moves, three neurosurgeons from the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), who study spinal biomechanics, started decoding them. Now they have published a paper titled “How did Michael Jackson Challenge our Understanding of Spine Biomechanics?”, in the Journal of Neurosurgery.
The secret behind it
The doctors explain that when we bend forward with our back straight, the erector spinae muscles that run parallel to vertebrae act like cables to support the suspended spinal column during the forward shift of the centre of gravity, preventing the body from falling forward.
However, when the focus of bending forward is shifted to ankle joints, the erector spinae lose their ability to maintain the centre of gravity, and the strain is put on the calf and Achilles tendon, which aren’t really built for this role.
“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,” doctors explain in the study.
In a 1987 music video, “Smooth Criminal,” Michael Jackson performed a mind-boggling dance move when he leaned forward 45 degrees while keeping his spine straight, using only his feet to prevent him from falling.
Most trained dancers with strong core strength will reach a maximum of 25 degrees to 30 degrees of forward bending while performing this action. But MJ pulled off a gravity-defying 45 degree move that seems unearthly. Several MJ fans, including the authors, have tried to copy this move and failed, often injuring themselves in their endeavors.
It is not that MJ broke the relationship between physiology and physics, as many believed, as the move was accomplished with a clever invention.
A patent registered under MJ’s name shows that he had a specially designed shoe.
“That shoe had a slot in the heel. The triangular slot could engage a hitch member (a metallic peg, which emerged from the stage floor at just the right time), allowing the dancer to obtain the right amount of extra support to be able to lean forward beyond physiological limits,” the study mentions.
“But 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 antigravity muscles,” said the doctors.
Trick or not, new forms of dancing inspired by MJ have begun to challenge doctors’ understanding of the modes and mechanisms of spinal injury.