Michael Jackson's patented "Smooth Criminal" leaning shoes


Patent number 5255452, filed in 1992, shows how Michael Jackson and his dancers could lean at 45-degree angles during live performances of the song "Smooth Criminal".

1. A system for engaging shoes with a hitch mans to permit a person standing on a stage surface to lean forwardly beyond his or her center of gravity, comprising:

at least one shoe having a heel with a first engagement means, said first engagement means comprising a recess formed in a heel of said shoe covered with a heel slot plane located at a bottom region of said heel, said heel slot plate having a slot formed therein with a relatively wide opening at a leading edge of said heel and a narrower terminal end rearward of said leading edge, said recess being larger in size above said terminal end of said slot than is said terminal end of said slot; and
a second engagement means, detachably engageable with said first engagement means, comprising a hitch member having an enlarged head portion connected by a narrower shank portion to a means for raising and lowering said head of said hitch member above and substantially level with or below said stage surface, said head portion being larger in size than said terminal end of said slot and said shank portion being narrower than said terminal end of said slot, wherein said hitch member can be moved through apertures in said stage surface between a projecting position raised above said stage surface and a retracted position at or below the stage surface, and when said head portion of said hitch member is raised above said stage surface, said first engagement means can be detachably engaged with said projecting hitch member, thereby allowing a person wearing the shoes to lean forwardly with his or her normal center of gravity beyond a front region of said shoes, and maintain said forward lean.

You can see them perform the move in the below video; watch the guy on the right, as he has trouble disengaging his loafers after the move.

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  1. i’m having a hard time interpreting the legal-speak. From the looks of the drawing, a wedge fits into the heal…but is a custom stage required (with spring loaded wedge-hooks) , or can this work anywhere?

  2. Is it mandatory in patent applications to have illustrations done in a 1930s style?
    Because that would be a cool patent office rule.

  3. I knew there had to be some kind of behind the scenes (or shoes) wizardry. That scene always looked too perfect to be trick photography.

  4. … And he stays in character until he’s offstage rather than taking the bow. Nice. Pity he wasn’t a better actor when he wasn’t dancing…

    Simon: An anchor peg has to be affixed to the stage for the shoe to lock into.

    Pantograph: No, but there is a de facto requirement that the illustrations be as clear as possible, which tends to mean blueprint-style line drawings of this sort. The numbers calling out the elements referred to in the patent description *are* required, I believe, by custom if not by law.

    … I really regret not having seen him live. I don’t do rock/pop concerts, but darn it, there aren’t that many good song-and-dance men and Jackson was right up there with some of the best. As someone said when interviewed for the “Everybody Dance Now” episode of Dance In America, “Michael Jackson _is_ dance.”

    As I’ve said before, I really do pity him, in a poor-little-rich-kid kind of way. Or perhaps the autistic genius comes closer, or the washed-up athlete… Hugely talented, hugely successful from an early age, but apparently never quite figured out how to deal with life off the stage and apparently trusted the wrong people when it came to finances.

    Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse? Could be attractive if you never quite figured out what you were living for.

  5. #12 (TECHNOGEEK)

    For a surprisingly good and entertaining song and dance concert – go see Beck perform sometime. He’s actually pretty amazing!

  6. Just out of curiosity for all of those impatient people out there who had to fast forward…

    Were you not amazed at the choreography at all?! There is a reason he was called the “King of Pop”… I don’t think anyone else will ever be able to pull this sort of thing off like he did ever again.

    In his own way and own genre, MJ charted new territory for humanity and we’re all better for it. I hope he rests in peace.

  7. @ TG

    A stage anchor is what you’d assume but how is it employed? There are no shadows of any pegs once they release from the stance. Is it someone behind stage with a quick trigger finger releasing and withdrawing the anchor?

  8. I hope this patent was denied, or else everything in Home Depot could be patented for every imaginable use!

  9. I’ve seen Beck several times, Redteam, and his shows are really great. At least they were before he went all folky-scientology. The guy can dance!

  10. Why has the YouTube link stopped working on my itouch? It was fine when first posted. Kinda spoils it.

    Great post Joel! Got any more fascinating facts?

  11. A good sing-and-dance guy? Of course I don’t know for sure nor I’ve even listened to him live, but watching his videos it seems (hears) like the foh guys do some serious playback work.

    Sure he was a good dancer.

  12. Am I the only one who thinks it’s a bit weird that the < slot is facing forward? So it engages backwards.. seems to me you'd risk the thing slipping out backwards when you were leaned forward? Wouldn't it have made more sense to put the slot in the other direction? ('course, it'd be more visible then, on the back of the heel..)

  13. Best not to fast forward to the lean. Those are some of his best dance moves in Smooth Criminal. He seems to get a little tired at the end after the lean, but heck who wouldn’t. That’s a day’s worth of exercise in that one song.

  14. @#14: He was called the “King of Pop” because that’s the name he decided he wanted, and once he came up with it, he wouldn’t go on any of the awards shows or music specials unless they introduced him that way.

    He was a self anointed “King”. I guess it worked. How quickly we all forget.

  15. In Portuguese from Brazil:
    A ilusão antigravitacional de Michael Jackson
    Uma interessante nota que foi postada por Joel Johnson no BoingBoing.
    Michael Jackson e seus dançarinos, em suas performances na canção “Smooth Criminal”, utilizavam-se de sapatos especiais.
    Com esses sapatos, MJ e seus dançarinos conseguiam inclinar os corpos, com relação ao solo, em até cerca de 45 graus. Passando a incrível sensação de que eles, nas coreografias dessa canção, transgrediam os limites estabelecidos pelo centro de gravidade de seus corpos.
    Read more in EntreMentes by Paulo Gurgel.

  16. Not to get off topic here but in the end, he says “You’ve been hit by…” and it sounds like to me “…you’ve been f**ked by, a smooth criminal.” Am I hearing that wrong?

  17. MJ’s death was so unexpected in a sense. You know rock and pop stars tend to have shorter lifespans due to the drugs but he always seemed to have distance from that even though he had other problems.

    I’m dismayed, but not surprised, at the racial discussion surrounding Michael’s legacy. He is being talked about as being a uniter and the like. Unity and peace is a good thing, but it’s a little disheartening to see reality distorted as to fit it inside a colorblind and unpolitical conception of our country and world’s racial problem.

    Michael helped white people be okay with Black dance, music, Black people. It shouldn’t be construed that Black people were as problematic, racially as whites. This isn’t the truth and everyone knows it. I’m not saying all white people have committed huge wrongs or that every white person is a bad person. Far from it.

    But we shouldn’t be dishonest about the core nature of our racial problems. Racism is a white problem. It’s white racism that has caused us so much pain. As we remember Michael and the pleasure and healing he brought us, let us not dishonor his legacy and the legacy of all the Black and a few whites who have struggled for racial progress over the years, by rewriting and revising the rich and often painful history so that whites can feel better about it.

    Let’s be honest.

    We love you and thank you for all that you gave us and did for us Michael!!! RIP

  18. @#25: Actually, Elizabeth Taylor was the one to first call him the King of Pop. She came up with the name, and it stuck.

  19. MARCG,

    Why do you capitalize “Black”, but not “white”? I’d hate to think I’ve been spelling one of them wrong all these years . . .

  20. “Racism is a white problem.”

    Ummm, yeah. I’m going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there.

  21. EB (#28)
    its ‘youve been hit by, youve been struck by, a smooth criminal’
    I never saw the accompanying movie to Smooth Criminal, and thought he was saying ‘Eddie are you okay’ rather than ‘Annie’ for years…

    I imagine the floor pegs are only wide in 2 dimensions (flat in the other), and can slide through slits in the floor (sort of like a coin in a slot machine)…

    cool post!


  22. Patent Schmatent!
    This is an old Vaudeville/Circus bit. I have books from the 30’s with this apparatus described in it. Its a gaff used by clowns for decades before this.

  23. i still don’t understand how it works! how do you not fall out of your loafers and fall right on your face. it IS still magic to me!

  24. Awesome, I’ve always enjoyed seeing MJ’s dance moves and this still looks awesome even with knowing how it works.

    MARCG #29
    Wow.. To say that racism is a white thing only is entirely wrong and in fact, technically, is a very racists thing to say. So, you, by not fully understanding racism and all of its varying aspects are not looking to smart nor are you seeming to be un-biased or un-racist yourself. Good Job on that!

  25. oh thanks for this posting, it was awesome!

    look at in the minute 3:56 the guy on the right side of the screen got his right shoe stucked on the floor lol

  26. have these already been patented n all that good stuff? if not please contact me by my email which if your a admin or site owner you can see the email.

  27. What sort of dancing did Michael Jackson do in smooth criminal? Was it Disco dancing, Pop dancing, Modern dancing, Salsa, No it deffinitly wasnt salsa!! So what did he doo? I really want dance lessons and maybe one day you may see me on stage Emma Thomson dancing like michael jackson, but he was ALOT BETTER!!

  28. Fatalidade … Sim …. Mas o homem pode conquistar tudo na terra … a eternidade é conquisttada atraves de JESUS … o VERDADEIRO REI DOS reis.

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  31. i think that is one of his coolest and most creative ones that he had,i think that the leaning thing is the coolest thing i have ever seen even if it was done with wires or pegs because at least he was creative enough to come up with things like that to do, do u see anyone else doing things like that no because he was just that creative, and now everyone thinks that they can just inmatate him which they can’t because no one every will be as gook as michael jackson was. He WAS the king of pop and the BEST entertainer the world had ever seen.

  32. Haven’t read ALL the comments, but in case it hasn’t been covered yet, here’s how the trick works:
    1. During a diversion, Mike & boys go over to a section of the stage and lock their heels into triangular, pre-raised wedges. Their ankles are further reinforced by special stiff ankle guards that stop the lean at a certain 45 degree angle.
    2. The lean.
    3. Upon coming back upright, the dancers carefully slide their shoes backwards from the wedges, and the released wedges drop back to stage/floor level.
    There were several incidents like this one. In one concert, Mike almost hit the floor when his wedge didn’t hold. Look online for that video.

  33. Thanks for posting, we’ve had some interesting discussion with my children (the 1990 generation) about how this was done. To #55, George, thanks for explaining it in layman’s terms, that helped me!

  34. michael jackson né pa mort parske je ss son DOCTOR jaja je di pa mon vrai prénon min il é vivan parske c moi le doctor kil a péyé pour fère kroire sa il va revenir dan 1 nan ne dite pa ke c moi stp

  35. I would never call him a genius but a great performer yes on different search engine placement. The device is very clever and whether or not he designed and patented it doesn’t matter as much as having the ability to incorporate and execute an idea and concept so effectively.
    I watched most of the video and am convinced he is lip syncing. I’m not a MJ hater but I also admittedly never LOVED the guy either. I am sorry he’s dead but am not loosing any sleep over it. He hasn’t had any decent albums in over a decade web hosting. I know that doesn’t take away from his 3 decades of ground breaking hits but I think he was trying too hard to get back to his “King of Pop” days.

  36. Michael was,is, will be the greatest entertainer, performer of all time, whether his shoes lean was a trick. He will remain in our hearts forall of our remaining life.

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