Jun
28
2009

Did Michael Jackson patent an anti-gravity illusion?

Michael Jackson's patent as used for "Smooth Criminal" (PD)

Michael Jackson's patent as used for "Smooth Criminal" (PD)

Michael Jackson (1958-2009) was a singer and entertainer. His performances, whether on video or on stage, featured energetic and dramatic dance moves—and not just the “Moonwalk”.

The choreography to Smooth Criminal (YouTube) includes a move where Michael Jackson and his dancers tilt their bodies forwards in a gravity-defying moment. It looks as though they should topple over, or as if they are leaning into an enormously strong wind which stops them falling. So how was it done?

For the video, they used support cables and careful camera angles, but this would have been cumbersome and probably obvious on stage during a live performance. Instead, they cooked up a nifty gadget to help them.

The heels of the performers’ shoes were hollowed out into a wedge shape. The heads of bolts were raised from the stage floor at the appropriate time, and the dancers moved their heels forwards to engage the bolt heads. This held their shoes firmly to the stage while they leaned far forward.

Michael Jackson (together with Michael Bush and Dennis Tompkins) patented this system in 1992 as US Patent 5255452. They cited prior art for slotted shoes engaging with bicycle pedals or fixed parts of a spaceship, but claimed originality for slotted shoes engaging with a movable bolt during the performance of a dance routine.

RIP Michael Jackson, performer and patent holder.

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