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Local dancer remembers working with Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson performing onstage at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards.
Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect/Getty Images
Michael Jackson performing onstage at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards.

An autopsy was performed this morning on the body of Michael Jackson. It’s an image that cannot jibe with the memories of people who knew or worked with Michael.

Kevin Stea is a dancer and choreographer. He worked with Jackson on his “Black or White” video. KPCC’s Steve Julian asked Stea about his first impression of Michael.

Kevin Stea: He's such an incredible presence, and the moment he walked in the room, I mean, you couldn't help but just feel this energy. I was so impressed with him and I was so inspired with him for my entire career. It was just an incredible honor to be there with him and to be in touch in an intimate type of setting with him as well.

Steve Julian: When you were on the set with him for a video like "Black or White" or "Blood on the Dance Floor," was he more the choreographer or more the dancer?

Stea: Gosh, it's hard to kind of define him as a choreographer or a dancer. I mean, I can't even define him as a dancer. He's just a performer. Like, even with his moves, it's like, you know, a lot of times a dancer will just kind of, you know, take a choreographer's steps and, you know, sort of just bring the choreographer's vision to life.

But I feel like Michael went a step beyond. He really owned every single step he was given. He owned it and created it in his own world, made it into his own vocabulary. I mean, everything he did was so identifiably his. He interpreted. He interpreted and made everything his own.

Julian: How long have you been dancing?

Stea: Me? Oh goodness. This is between you and me. (laughs)

Julian: Yes. And a few thousand others.

Stea: Like 21 years, 22 years. So I actually started working a year after I started dancing.

Julian: Well how do you think Michael Jackson revolutionized dance?

Stea: Well, he's kind of been an innovator all around, in everything he's done. He's certainly the originator of any type of dance video, and an originator in dance video in terms of like having a narrative. He was really the first person out there who created the kind of iconic image of, you know, pop superstar with backup dancers. (laughs)

Julian: Mm hmm, mm hmm.

Stea: Like that's really, he's the one who created all of that, and people take it for granted because it's been so long that it's been so taken for granted, it's been part of our culture for since he started it. You know, he brought, he brought street dance certainly to the forefront, and incorporated it and brought it to the mainstream. And that, I think, that's been invaluable to the dance community.

Julian: Kevin Stea, you've also toured with Madonna. Of the two, can you come up with a way that Jackson was more, or maybe less, talented? More or less skilled?

Stea: They're different. I think Madonna's strengths lie in that she is incredible at bringing together the best of many, many, many worlds – like the art world, the fashion world, DJs, the disco culture – and kind of bringing together amazing elements into something that is at the same time innovative and new, but yet familiar.

And with Michael, he was just kind, he was this force that he's always trying to innovate, and always trying to push the envelope. And I think he succeeded, and I think often we don't even notice it once he's done it. Like (laughs) we just take it for granted that it has always been there.

But he, I know, in his work, he's always trying to innovate, down to the actual ticket design. Like he was so upset that the ticket design had already been done, like he wanted to have a hand in everything. You know, he wanted to give the best show ever.

Julian: Kevin Stea is a dancer in Los Angeles who's worked with Michael Jackson. Thanks very much. We appreciate your time.

Stea: Oh, my pleasure.