Thursday, February 25, 2010

michael jackson's "this is it" - amazing example of 10,000 hours/reps for expertise

This post is sort of about Michael Jackson. What's michael jackson got to do with a blog about wellbeing and being well? it turns out, there ain't no denying, he is the embodiment of talent combined with practice practice practice. If 10,000 hours is the minimum, then Jackson was an expert in performance - of moving his body and music - by the time he was 11 - 15 at the outside (calculations below). While his performance videos over the past - gosh - decade? have looked like charactertures of himself, his posthumous This is It, showing him working and working physically in versions of tunes demonstrates a fluidity and casualness of expertise reminiscent of another wiry little guy/athlete/dancer, Fred Astaire. And i can't believe i'm saying this. But credit and awe where it's due.

This meditation started on a long long flight from the UK to San Jos. i thought i'd listen to some tunes while working. "This is IT" the material put together after (very right after) Jackson's death to give a sense of Jackson's planned London shows was on. I have not considered myself to be a michael jackson fan, but i have to tell ya, seeing him *work* with a live band and dancers easily half his age, i was amazed.

Unfortunately seeing one youtube snippet doesn't do it (i don't think; it didn't for me seeing the promos for this.)

Ya have to see the continuous movement from work to work - as well as the working on. For what?

A fifty year old skinny man, let's face it, moving more fluidly than his very muscled, virile male cadre. The contrast is intriguing. One might assume that in order to do the moves, leaps and so on of the boys on set, that one would need to have their bowling ball shoulders. Well it seems not.

What may be hard to grasp unless you've tried it is that just walking at a clip and singing is no small thing. Give it a go. Now change the walking to fancy choreography. This guy is pretty sonically perfect while pulling off complex movements and NOT ever sounding out of breath. Who else doesn't look like "and now i'm gonna dance" - Even the mighty impresario Prince doesn't have the movement integrated into his being, i mean does he? no. He *looks* like he's dancing as opposed to well just being himself. Like Federer with a racquet?

What's that video he did with his sister - black and white, somewhere in space - most expensive video ever made? Scream, right. thank you google. - watch the two of them move - she's very good, but he's well, even more very good. Ya may not like all his music, but anyone who studies movement at any level, appreciates form, athleticism, coordination, has to be just a little slack jawed.

This is It is an opportunity to see at least a sense of where practice meets performance as effortlessness. Talk about the four parts of efficiency.

Tension/Relaxation/thousands of thousands of times.
How is it that it seems instantly one can tell Michael Jackson's signature dance moves when so many others repeat them? That smoothness that seems no one else has - and that he's always had.

How about practicing for hours at a time a day, starting at 5 years old?
The stories of how driven his brothers, and especially he was (by his dad), to practice practice practice, pay off.

As said, at that rate, not unlike Mozart set to practice at age 6, Jackson would have had the 10000 hours in with his brothers to be expert at performing and moving by the time he was 15 at the outside: let's average his daily grind out to 3hrs a day by 350 (assume something stops on sundays), that's 1050 hours. *10, 10500 hours

Looking at video of jackson at 15 he was already silky silky smooth.

Expert no kidding. No wonder watching him rehearse for the o2 shows is like a master class in precision detail. One of the musicians complements him for knowing his records so precisely. I thought, c'mon he wrote them; of course he knows them, so likely something else is meant - and when you see the film, it's more like the control he has - we never see him play an instrument - i have no idea if he plays anything. but we do hear him simulate a bass rif perfectly in terms of the tones he wants from line.

But before i wax further about the music, let me come back to the movement.
between him and his troope

bigness: it's all for show.
Male ballet dancers have big legs and big butts. perhaps that's all the jumping.

Fred Astaire was not big. But oh is he smooth. Smoother than gene kelley, donald o'connor, name it from that era.

Michael Jackson, in his own ilk, displays that.

I own when i had seen clips of his work previously i'd thought it repetetive - everything a reiteration of thriller on, but again, watching him rehearse, that just didn't seem to be the case. Signature moves but in a far more fluid context - or something.

You see him inventing moves with his lads and it's just SO effortless it feels a little inhuman. How did he do that? where did that come from - and you can feel the young guns catching the move, repeating it, but it's heavier for sure. despite the younger, faster reflexes.

I did not expect to be impressed, little own watch this film with attention.

I still don't understand the obsessive adoration especially of his dance group, many of whom were not even alive when thriller came out, to say nothing of his motown work.

but no matter what my response to jackson may be on so many levels, watching him rehearse/perform with his peers - the folks designing the show (which looks like it would have been an awesome spectacle -in a good way), there's no denying this rather magnificent example of motor learning, neural patterning, those several sets of ten thousand hours of work combined with some not small raw talent, into this embodiment of physical, performance excellence.

He's 12 in the above clip for "i want you back" Expert? For a real treat - 5 years later with Cher. Goodness. On Larry King, after Jackson's death, Cher said she was gobsmacked by his talent (ok she didn't say gobsmacked) and how it's his movement - the way he danced that was so amazing - and how he made her look good when she couldn't dance. Expertise again? DO watch her moving next to him. He's all over the place, and she's barely moving. But unless you were watching for it, would you see that? You do see a moonwalk precursor towards the end. oh heck here it is.

it's not a snatch test, but wow.

The point of this post?
Just i guess that it's amazing how one can be taken by surprise by excellence - i really had no idea this guy was THAT good, but malcolm gladwell i think missed a trick not having his profile in Outliers, too.

I don't know if having spent some time looking at motor learning, developing patterns, ideas on expertise development, 10,000 towards the perfect rep quest, etc, is what lead me to focus on this film on this long flight tonight, or just anyone seeing this film that is just one consecutive stream would be so moved.

But, to my surprise, i encourage you, if you're interested in athleticism and grace, and just sheer talent, check out This Is It, and please let me know what you think.


Rina said...

Michael Jackson is AMAZING! the consummate performer, you can feel the passion he had for his music throught he emotion in his voice and the power of his moves so smooth, intense, sexual and innocent all at the same time. he transcended race and sex. There can only be one. He will always be remembered, bless your soul michael.

Anonymous said...

Wow! The clip with Cher left me a little "gobsmacked," too. I remember being a kid, a teenager, when Thriller came out (yeah, I'm old!), and spending hours and hours with my best friends, recreating the video. I realized then that Michael had something special when it came to movement, his body, his animalistic grace. When you watch him, you can't understand how a body can be so fluid. I took years of Salsa dance lessons and though I might look good to someone who hasn't danced, I'm no Michael. And I could never be.

Jon said...

I agree completely. I am not a huge fan of post-1990 MJ, but I watched the movie on a whim, and was completely floored. He moved perfectly, his mind was sharp, and as skinny and frail as he looked, he was still quite literally a dancing machine.

His backup dancers were obviously some of the most talented in the world--kids who grew up only knowing dance based on what Jackson invented, once in a lifetime chance to perform with him. Despite all of that talent around and behind him, I couldn't NOT watch him move and dance, while completely ignoring the immense talent around him.

Now all I need is thousands more hours and reps of practice on all of my physical endeavors....

dr. m.c. said...

let me just say thank you all for posting, and being willing to post publicaly about that :)

The cher clip sorta sets me off, too.
It's the way he uses every joint in his body it seems - even his hair it seems.

here's to all of us getting several bouts of ten thousand hours for perfection in our lives.


Judith Coyle said...

I came to Michael Jackson late in life - in Feb 2007 - via a chance encounter with a second-hand book.
'Michael Jackson: The Magic and The Madness'. Since then I've devoted countless hours to the study of this man, his music and dance.The book led me to buy MJH Cds, and then DVDs - and I found works I did n ot even know existed (I'd been in a bubble of being 'cool', I think!) I was astonished at the quality of the music, the artistry of his dancing and the sheer creativity in the music films he made.
Your post is great. Welcome to the world of being gobsmacked by Michael Jackson's talent!

Unknown said...

Great article, thank you very much for sharing. I've heard over and over again over the past few months surprise and awe from coworkers and friends at how talented Michael Jackson truly was. Hell, I've been a fan since I was a very young child, and I'm still surprised at times by how he completely mastered everything he did, and embodied music and dance so completely. As a former dancer, I've always done by best to study his body movements and feet, but even if you understand the steps, to duplicate them is something that's just not possible. You can imitate, but never duplicate.

"This Is It" was a real treat - albeit one that should never have come to pass - as a window into MJ's creative mind, which I haven't ever seen the like of. If you're interested in further study of his fantastic skills as a live performer, I'd recommend checking out anything from his first or second world tours, or really any live performance of "Billie Jean", which always served as a space for him to improvise. If you're more curious about why people were always so overwhelmed by and emotionally involved in his performance, that's harder to explain; I think it must simply be the amount of passion he imbued into his craft. Any performance of "Man in the Mirror" usually demonstrates that pretty well.

Anna @ D16 said...

Excellent post, glad to have come across it.

I have only one thing to add, re: "assume something stops on sundays".

In numerous interviews (and, I believe, in his autobiography), Michael has stated that Sunday was a day he always devoted to nothing BUT dancing. In fact, he would fast on Sundays, believing it would help him to focus. By all accounts (and over the course of his entire life), the one thing that Michael was completely devoted to perfecting and honing and practicing was DANCE -- every day, and for hours on end.


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