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Stepping up


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POSTED: Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Philip Kealoha came ready to pop, lock and moonwalk. Sporting one monster glove, the 10-year-old was thrilled with the opportunity to learn a few moves from Jeffrey Daniel, the man who taught Michael Jackson how to moonwalk.

“;I watch Michael Jackson videos on my computer,”; said Kealoha, who became hooked on dancing after a cousin introduced him to “;Beat It.”; “;I really like the beat.”;

But Kealoha learned more than dance moves in Daniel's class, receiving his first lesson in discipline: “;I learned that I can't just push the limit. You have to take your time.”;

Daniel worked with the children during a session at the Boys and Girls Club's Spalding Clubhouse on Thursday. He also conducted a class at Palama Settlement on Friday and held master classes at the Hawai'i Convention Center on Saturday.

The kids seemed impressed with Daniel, which shouldn't be surprising considering all the moves he's put into practice over the years. He started on “;Soul Train”; in the 1970s, where he was influenced by Don Campbell. Daniel moved on to become a member of the group Shalimar, responsible for bringing street dance to the stage. And he is well known for performing the backslide on a popular British TV program, “;Top of the Pops”; in 1982, about a year before Jackson performed the same move that became known as the moonwalk on “;Motown 25: Yesterday, Today & Forever.”; And, of course, Daniel co-choreographed two of Jackson's award-winning videos, “;Bad”; and “;Smooth Criminal.”;

Daniel and Jackson were instrumental in popularizing the West Coast street dance movement. From locking, popping and robotics to waacking, house and hip-hop, they provided career opportunities for these types of dancers. “;We took street dancing to the stage,”; Daniel said. “;There was no work for street dancers prior to that.”;

The classes taught by Daniel are a combination of Michael Jackson's legacy as well as his own legacy. “;I want to keep that legacy alive,”; he said.

DANIEL BEGAN his class by sharing his history with the kids at the Boys and Girls Club, how he started dancing at the age of 3.

“;There was no MTV, no videos, and I didn't know about professional careers. I loved to dance, that's why I danced,”; he said. “;I was a street dancer, not a trained dancer. I kept dancing until something happened.”;

The kids asked questions like “;Did Michael have a big house?”; and “;How did he die?”; and all were answered graciously.

Daniel claims his relationship with Jackson was reciprocal. “;Working with Michael, I learned a lot about dynamics ... when to make it bigger, when to make it more subtle. He also taught me a lot about storyboards, where you map out the scenes in order, which came in handy as a director,”; Daniel said.

“;Michael is in a class of his own. His dancing is phenomenal, his whole attitude, vocal performance, image was such a total package. It was not lacking in one area. Few people can bring all of that. Most people have a piece of this or a piece of that,”; Daniel added.

Daniel was encouraged to come to the islands by his friend and fellow dancer, local girl Christine Yasunaga. Daniel gave Yasunaga her first professional job at the age of 18 after he discovered her in a dance class.

“;I included her in some videos. They weren't using many Asian dancers at the time, and I liked the way she moved. I like to mix everything up,”; he said.

Yasunaga is thankful for the chance to work with Daniel in the past and was pleased that local students were afforded this same opportunity.

“;It's good to take different classes from different teachers — it helps them grow as a person and as a student,”; she said. “;The focus of the classes was to inspire. We hope that people who never took a dance class before might leave interested. Others might find dance a way to relieve stress. ... It's a great outlet.”;

Peyton Walker, 15, attended the Boys and Girls Club session and showed up for the Saturday classes. “;I was totally stoked. I wanted to spend more time with him (Daniel) and see more stuff,”; Walker said. “;I'm a cheerleader and like to dance. He taught us that some people are born with natural talent ... other people need to practice. He really taught us about being confident.”;

Eight-year-old Natalia Mondi absolutely loves to dance. She has taken belly dance, ballet and hip-hop. And, she is a part of Drill Team Hawaii. “;I used to do some locking, break dance,”; she said. “;But I learned some new moves today, like the moonwalk.”;

Daniel is overjoyed that kids and teenagers are interested in his dance styles. “;Pop, lock, waack and electric boogie are all dances of the '70s and are still going strong all over the world,”; he said.

Since Jackson's death, Daniel has been receiving mail from Jackson fans, offering condolences and asking questions. “;So many people copy and emulate what Michael was doing. That's one of the main reasons that I decided to teach the classes. People are looking up my videos on YouTube and are learning about my connection with Michael,”; he said.

“;This lady sent me a video of her 7-year-old son copying my dance routine verbatim, step by step. I almost cried.”;

In the end, students left with an important message from Daniel: “;If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”;