Aug 30, 2022

"The Way You Make Me Feel" by Michael Jackson

Joan Biddle

When Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel" came on in Ms. Parker's dance class, Jessie couldn’t help but move. As we waited in line to go across the floor, her body had already started dancing. It was only this song that made her do this, every time.

We leaped and danced across the floor, oh the joy of moving in a pattern and being seen! Oh, the joy of moving! Jessie had wild hair and glasses and couldn’t contain herself, the pure, raw energy like we all had inside.

We were seen by Ms. Parker, by the big windows, we were felt by the floor, by the other girls.

The music video is set in an alley, with Michael Jackson pursuing a girl, filmed at Skid Row in L.A. in 1987. The dark music video had a hint of danger. But the song isn't dangerous, it just has a good beat in its heart. Good timing. A new sound. And we danced. Critic Rickard Harrington wrote that on songs like "The Way You Make Me Feel," Michael Jackson "sings the way he dances."

Other artists to whom we loved dancing were Madonna (a huge production to "Vogue" complete with masks of famous people and the signature hand motions), Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson. How lucky we were that these were the artists and the songs. Ms. Parker beat her stick against the floor to keep time. She wore leg warmers and tight leggings and a leotard. She had big hair. She smoked.

The beat comes on first and you know the song is coming. Then you move across the floor to the beat, doing the moves, making your body fit the pattern of the movement, carrying your body through the pattern of the movement as the afternoon sun shines through the big windows. Then you wait in line to go again. I think I liked this about dance, the orderliness of it. The patterns you could master. It being done when it was done. Exertion and artistry, left where they were on the studio floor. 

When we were even younger we danced in a different ballet room, in the lobby of the big old gym. I remember that room well, and the song “Let’s Hear it for The Boy” (Deniece Williams, 1984) playing. Wooden floor, music bumping, mirrored wall, barres, leg warmers. Sitting cross-legged in butterfly, waiting for the big girls to tell us what to do.

This was before I became rooted in classical ballet. This was when we performed big gaudy shows with costumes and lights and screamed at the top of our lungs when the heavy red curtain fell at the end of the show. This was darkness and light all in one.

This was before the trip to Nashville for summer training auditions, the sink right there in the hotel room, the scalding water on our toothbrushes. 

The absolute tumble of the beat, the 8 count but also the 5 count underneath. Maybe that's what got Jessie going. Maybe it was the praise for the girl in the lyrics (“you knock me off of my feet now baby”). Maybe it was just Michael Jackson, and a song that sounded like no other song had ever sounded. Maybe it was the energy that had accumulated throughout the day and needed to get out.

The way you make me feel, you really turn me on, you knock me off my feet, my lonely days are gone

Ain’t nobody’s business but mine and my baby’s

Jessie was the same girl with whom I got in trouble at the Earthquake Research Center, where we had a field trip one spring. It was in an old house, part of the local college campus. In it there was a seismograph, and we whispered an idea that came to us as if at the same time – let’s jump and see what happens. Jessie’s eyes flickered behind her glasses, her eyes not focusing on anything. One, two, three, we whispered. One, two, three, we jumped and landed on the wooden floor at the same time. The needle jumped, and the graph changed. We didn’t see beyond that exhilarating moment, the way it made us feel.

Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel" was released by Epic Records on his album Bad in 1987.

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