A team of neurological surgeons have figured out how Michael Jackon achieved the gravity-defying, 45-degree forward tilt he performed live in front of thousands of screaming fans.
It turns out this "mind-boggling" dance move, first seen in the 1987 "Smooth Criminal" video, was actually a clever illusion that entailed a great deal of core strength, alongside secret hooks and heels.
Fans were amazed and perplexed after seeing Jackson repeat the feat live on-stage, and completely fooled, although spinal experts can now describe, in detail, how it was biomechanically possible.
Writing in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, the three neurosurgeons said: "Several fans, including the authors, have tried to copy this move and failed, often injuring themselves in their endeavours."
"You can bend a maximum of 25 or 30 degrees forward before you fall on your face," lead author Dr. Manjul Tripathi tells CNN, "I tried to do it, and I fell."
“How did Michael Jackson challenge our understanding of spine biomechanics?” - New @TheJNS article that looks into the secret of the “antigravity tilt” by the King of Pop https://t.co/D18XB2ROsf pic.twitter.com/f3k0K3lSMm— Naif M. Alotaibi (@NaifMA1) May 22, 2018
A patent registered under Jackson's name reveals how the trick was achieved.
The 'King of Pop' had designed a special shoe with a triangular slot in the heel which hooked onto a metallic peg that emerged from the stage floor at just the right moment.
This allowed him to lean forward at an impossible angle without collapsing in an undignified heap.
The scientists were led by long-time Jackson fan, Nishant Yagnick from the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India.
In their journal, they explain how most trained dancers with strong core strength can normally achieve no more than 25 to 30 degrees while tilting forward.
During the move, the strain is shifted from the erector spinae muscles that support the spinal column to the Achilles tendon.
"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", the researchers wrote.
"MJ pulled off a gravity-defying 45-degree move that seems unearthly to any witness."
The authors stressed that despite the illusion, Jackson's physical abilities were nonetheless impressive.
"Even with specially designed footwear and the support of the hitch member, the move is incredibly hard to pull off," they wrote, "requiring athletic core strength from strengthened spinal muscles and lower-limb anti-gravity muscles."
"Trick or not, new forms of dancing inspired by MJ have begun to challenge our understanding of the modes and mechanisms of spinal injury.
"Ever since MJ entertained us with his fabulous moves, throughout the world dancers have tried to jump higher, stretch farther, and turn faster than ever before."