Monday, September 5, 2011


With everything Michael wore, it became a symbol of who he was, a trademark, completely owned by him. The glittery glove, the sparkly socks, his military-style jackets with colored armbands, the high-water pants, the fedora, the mask, and especially the oversized sunglasses were all a part of the Michael we knew and loved. He was fearless in the ways he expressed himself, both through his music and attire. Not afraid to be different, he challenged society’s conventions.

And no one else can quite pull off that air of mystery and intrigue that surrounded Michael, when he stepped out into public hidden behind those large aviators. Many have tried, and still do, but they are missing something integral and important; something other than just imitating the look that Michael made solely his. They are missing a reflection in those glasses that is impossible to replicate. Why? Because they are not one of the most-loved and hated men on earth. They are not the most-famous or photographed entertainer. They are not one of the most-ridiculed, feared and extorted celebrities. They are not the man whose life was lived on the world stage, allowing for neither privacy nor normal life. They are not the man whose appearance and every word or action, was dissected and twisted into something strange, weird, and sinister. They are, simply, not Michael. The reflections that appear in their glasses are quite different from what we see reflected in Michael’s....

Look closely at the masses of adoring and loving fans, whom Michael loved equally as much as they do him.

See the voracious media with their intrusive cameras and microphones.

See the securitypeople, business associates, hangers-on, curiosity seekers and those infatuated by his celebrity.

See those who eyed his wealth and fame—greedily swarming around him, pushing and pulling, all hungry for a piece of him and ready to take him down to get it. They all there somewhere, reflected in his glasses. This was the world he viewed: a world that surrounded him wherever he went.

Of all the speculation and intrusive curiosity over every aspect of Michael’s life, the most ridiculous was the time spent by the media debating his choice of wardrobe. It disintegrated quickly into something embarrassing and dehumanizing—almost as if they couldn’t or didn’t want to see the “man” himself. Perhaps it was because Michael could not be defined; he didn’t fit into preconceived societal norms, and the more they tried to pigeonhole him, the more angry and fearful of him they became. He made them uncomfortable.

They concentrated their efforts on nitpicking over why he wore this and why he wore that, insinuating that Michael’s penchant for the military style was based on something darker than making a mere fashion statement.  And, as with the surgical mask he wore, people were very interested in the reasons behind his wearing the large sunglasses even at night (as if Michael were the only person ever to do this). There were snide comments made about him trying to cover up more plastic surgery, and some went so far as to imply that he was hiding the effects of drug use.

Everything about Michael was turned into a negative by the media; a consistent analysis was brutally waged against him because some could not accept him for what he was and others felt he had stepped out of his place as a definable entity. Still others saw Michael as a means to satisfy their desire for fame and fortune, and power. Michael trusted to easily, simply because he came from a place of love—though in reality, there were very people he could trust at the end of the day because they came from a place of greed, mistrust, fear and plain old jealousy.

Michael once said that he didn’t like to look people in the eye—a reason why he wore the sunglasses, almost as if he were creating a protective barrier to guard what vestige of privacy he had left. The eyes are the mirror to the soul, it is said, and Michael’s soul was bruised and battered. He was lonely, he had lost his childhood, he found it difficult to find a true friend or someone to love him as he was, and his trust had been broken by too many claiming to be his friend—his life had become a platform for the media to stand upon and espouse far and wide all that was wrong with him and why we should be suspicious of him. They called him names; they ridiculed and debased his humanity. He felt the pain of all this, and no doubt it was reflected in his eyes; the hurt and disappointment, and the betrayal.


“I cut and bleed like anyone else”, he said, but still they wanted more from him. With the advent of his 2005 trial, the media went into overdrive and, as we know, very little of went on in that courtroom—the testimonies that were presented in Michael’s favor—were reported by the press. Instead, they chose to report bits and pieces—a mishmash of discredited witness testimony that placed Michael in a bad light—because that provided the fodder for sound bites: easy revenue based on sensational and biased reporting at the expense of a man’s life and reputation. What was left of Michael’s soul was in danger of being lost forever. His very private and intimate personal life was laid bare for the whole world to pick over like hungry vultures. You see it in his eyes, peering out from his wire-framed spectacles: trauma from a life inspected, used, abused and, finally, crucified. There wasn’t much left of him.

Well, no more will we see his beautiful, soulful eyes, because they have been closed forever by a man who took an oath to preserve and protect life. A man who held Michael’s life in his hands, and then systematically turned his back on his patient to make some “phone calls”, leaving Michael without the required monitoring equipment, abandoning him to the propofol filling his veins—leaving him alone to die. This man will shortly stand trial for manslaughter;  yet, knowing this, the media are still calling it the Jackson trial, and while the defense plays the “blame the victim” game, Michael’s life is once more examined. Michael’s life is once more being prepared for crucifixion.

The spirit lives on—I firmly believe that. Michael’s physical essence has departed this place, and no more will he have to endure the pain or hide behind the frail barrier of masks and glasses. We will no longer see his world reflected in a pair of lenses, but, I believe his spirit is fully aware of the events taking place. His legacy is at stake! His legacy is now in the hands of those who wish to protect it, for no other reason than  for the love of a man who was misunderstood and hated without reason. For no other reason than that we know and understand the importance of Michael’s life, we know what the gift of his life is to us, and to the world, really means. Knowing this, when we don our glasses tomorrow, whether it is to protect us from the sun or to enable us to see better, the reflections we see in our glasses should mirror that legacy. He is relying on us, he trusts us and we will be there to protect and preserve what he no longer can.

Based on the idea by Debby Barker

By Valmai Owens

© 2011. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission from author.

Interview with Sarah Hall Weaver: Assistant Director of the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame

On August 15, 2010, on a night filled with celebration and dance, Michael Jackson was inducted into the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame. Spectators, fans and the Saratoga Springs elite, joined together to pay tribute to an artist who has inspired countless musicians, dancers and singers. And for many of Michael’s fans, it was an acknowledgement and recognition of his artistic contributions that had been long overshadowed by unnecessary negativity and controversy.

One year later, I talked to Sarah Hall Weaver, Assistant Director at the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame, and asked her questions about the exhibit and her personal involvement in it.


Valmai:   Sarah, could you give us background on the museum? When was it first established?

Sarah:   We are located in Saratoga Springs, New York. The National Museum of Dance opened in 1986; this year is actually our 25th anniversary! Prior to the opening of the museum, the building was the Washington Bathhouse. After a decline in popularity, the building was left vacant for years. Then Marylou Whitney and Lewis Swyer, the museum's founders, came up with the idea to convert the building into the nation’s only museum dedicated solely to the art of dance—and it remains to this day as the only one in the United States, and one of just a very few scattered throughout the world. The C.V. Whitney Hall of Fame opened in 1987, and remains the only hall of fame that recognizes dance professionals. Since its opening, the museum has continued to offer annually, rotating exhibits, plus various events and programs. It also has its own dance school, The School of the Arts, which offers dance opportunities to people of all ages and backgrounds.

Valmai:  To date, how many inductees are there in the Hall of Fame?

Sarah:  There are currently 46 inductees in the Hall of Fame. They represent an endless variety of dance and dance professionalism, including dancers, choreographers, writers, musicians, costume designers, and much more!

Valmai:  Where do you get the memorabilia for the exhibits? Is it all donated, or does the museum have to purchase some of it?

Sarah:  The memorabilia in the rotating exhibits comes from many places. We have our own archival collection that has been gathered throughout the years and many objects are donated or borrowed as new projects arise, but unfortunately we do not have the means to outright purchase memorabilia. The Michael Jackson exhibit is a particularly lovely example of how naturally some projects come together: We had a few things donated initially, but as I was installing the exhibit—during the last week of hammering, painting, building and detailing—we had an influx of private collectors offering their memorabilia to be displayed on loan.

Valmai:  You have a children’s gallery in the museum. Could you tell us about some of the things it offers?

Sarah:  The Alfred Z. Solomon Children’s Wing is one of our permanent exhibits. It has a variety of toys that inspire explorations of movement and dance, as well as a collection of costumes and props to be used with a curtained stage, so that visiting kids can create their own shows. There is also a reading corner with many books for all age levels that pertain to dance topics, and a video library where our visitors can select their own movies to watch.

Valmai:  Michael Jackson was inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame, on August 15, 2010, and you mentioned that his exhibit is one of your most popular. Approximately how many guests would you say visit his exhibit each day/month/year?

Sarah:  We see on average about 10,000 visitors annually. Our museum and local community cater to a very seasonal audience, so daily and weekly visitor numbers fluctuate throughout the year. I can say that this summer is showing larger numbers of daily visitors than I’ve ever seen in my four summers here, and every week we still have guests arrive with the first question of, “Where is the Michael Jackson exhibit?”

Valmai:  Can you share any reactions from visitors to his exhibit that are especially memorable?

Sarah:  I am always surprised to see people’s different, individual experiences of the exhibit. We have seen everything from tears to hysterical laughter, and I am always so pleased to see how new guests take it all in. At the induction last August, I had set up a bubble machine in the Jackson 5 section as a special one-night-only effect. The actual ceremony had just ended in our main foyer, and when I went to check on the machine, I found a mother and her toddler playing in the bubbles. I don’t know that I’m a good enough writer to convey the happiness on the little girl's face, but her eyes held nothing less than absolute joy while she danced to the Jackson 5. Her dancing and enjoyment made it very real for me on just how important this exhibit is.

Valmai:  Does his exhibit hold any personal significance for you?

Sarah:  It really does. Like a lot of people, I’ve been a fan of Michael’s music since I was in preschool, but this project allowed me the opportunity to examine his career in a different light. I got to learn a lot about him, and a lot about myself and my vision for the museum too. Dance is sometimes considered as something elitist and exclusive, but it is so ingrained in our culture and the things we love most—dance IS for everyone. The MJ exhibit allowed me the chance to prove this to our guests who might not otherwise be interested in the strict artistry of ballet, or the abstract messages of modern dance.

Valmai:  Personally, what is your favorite part of Michael’s exhibit?

Sarah:  That’s a hard question. I should probably say the memorabilia, or one of the individual videos, but I really love the glove chandelier. It’s a little silly, but it's fun and an exciting visual. It was a lot of fun (and took a lot of work) to make. 

Valmai:  Does the exhibit include Michael’s 1983 Motown Anniversary performance?

Sarah:  We do not use footage of that moment (because we were unable to get a good enough copy of it), but I make a very clear mention and explanation of that performance in the exhibit's text. Hopefully down the road, we can feature it in the Hall of Fame.

Valmai:  May I ask what pieces of Michael memorabilia are on display in the exhibit?

Sarah:  We have a autographed guitar and concert tickets that were donated to the museum. On loan are one of Michael’s fedoras, two signed tour jackets, and a pair of signed jeans that Michael had donated to a charity auction years ago. There are also a few portraits of Michael (by various fine artists), records, photographs, and a pass from the This Is It tour.

Valmai:  Is the exhibit one that can be added to? Can people donate memorabilia into the future?

Sarah:  Memorabilia donations are always welcome. Donors would simply need to contact the museum with a description of the object, and we would talk from there. Now that Michael is in the Hall of Fame, he will always be represented in our museum. We rotate the memorabilia featured in the Hall of Fame, so as we accumulate more, we will be better able to relay his presence.

Valmai:  Michael left a huge catalogue of dance in his films and a child, teenager, and adult. Who was assigned the task of deciding what would be included in his exhibit? Was that difficult to do?

Sarah:  I selected the videos and content for the exhibit. It was difficult...and it wasn’t. I spent some time refamiliarizing myself with his videos and career during the research phase of the project, and after I examined the space, the selections really screamed to me. I wanted to highlight five videos or themes, and I wanted to do it chronologically to show his personal development. For those people who may not ever be able to see this exhibit. I chose the Jackson 5 (we put together a compilation video of several pieces of footage), The Wiz, Thriller, Black or White and This Is It. I wanted to cover the spectrum of what he accomplished in his career: films, concerts, music videos, etc. I used text to acknowledge the other obvious alternatives, and we will have the opportunity to feature some of his other videos and dance moments in the ongoing exhibition within the Hall of Fame itself.

Valmai:  How, if at all, are Michael's dance influences (from Fred Astaire to James Brown) being treated, or handled within his exhibition? If they're not being highlighted in some way, are there any plans to do so?

Sarah:  I make mention of his dance influences in the exhibit text; Michael made gracious acknowledgment of them throughout his career, and they were so clearly important in aiding the development of his aesthetic. The text is divided to three boards: “His Heritage," “His Development" and “His Legacy." The first is a detailed explanation of his training, Motown roots, and influences. (Happily, Fred Astaire is also in the Hall of Fame!) 

Valmai:  I imagine the Dance Hall of Fame had to have the Michael Jackson estate's blessing. What was the response when you first contacted them?

Sarah:  It took a while for us to find the right contacts to reach the estate, but once we did, they were so supportive and kind. They sent a lovely letter and gave us their best wishes. It meant so much more that they felt honored on Michael's behalf, as we sought to recognize his dance contributions. 

Valmai:  Have any celebrities or Jackson family members, relatives, or friends visited the Michael Jackson exhibit, and if so, who?

Sarah:  Marlon Jackson accepted the award at the induction ceremony on Michael's behalf. He was a wonderful guest, and spoke beautifully of his brother. Katherine (Michael’s mother) and Michael's children sent letters that we were able to read to the guests at the ceremony. We have also had several other people who were familiar with Michael, visit the museum.

Valmai:  What various items related to Michael are on sale in the gift shop?

Sarah:  We have T-shirts and totes that were specially made for the museum (available at, as well as posters, pocket folders, key chains, etc. We are also printing a 25th anniversary book that will be available for sale soon—it has profiles, quotes, and graphics on each of our Hall of Fame members, to celebrate the museum's 25th anniversary. As the most recent inductee, Michael is the last member profiled in the book, and it is wonderful to include him alongside the 45 others.

Valmai:  Do you intend to continue with plans to create a memorial garden in Michael’s name? What can we, as fans, do to help make this happen?

Sarah:  Unfortunately, the plans for the memorial garden fell through. We loved the idea, and had high hopes of seeing it become a reality, but the organization and implementation of the garden was actually coordinated by an outside fan group and things simply did not come together. Our small staff cannot oversee a project this big on our own right now, but we hope to reconsider it in the future.

Valmai:  Does the museum get a lot of support? What can we do to help with this, and to promote more awareness?

Sarah:  Support is growing, but we do need much, much more. Membership at every level is crucial to the museum. It means not just financial support, but encouragement. We are currently working tirelessly to expand our national recognition. We are seeing more hits on our website, more daily phone calls and emails, more interest in donating financially or archivally. We just need to keep it coming, we love where we’re going, and we love doing it for the betterment of dance and our national and local communities!

Valmai:  Mr. Jackson, so deserves to be included in the Dance Hall of Fame. We want to personally thank you for recognizing his cultural impact and contributions in the field of dance. I also want to personally thank you for taking the time to do this interview.

Sarah:  I would also like to thank you! I am so happy to interview with you. The MJ exhibit has been a great experience for the museum, and we look forward to furthering his legacy for years to come!

By Valmai Owens

© 2011. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission from author.

This interview appears in the publication Dot to Dot: Keeping Michael’s Legacy Alive, and its content is the property of the authors and the Michael Jackson Tribute Portrait. Articles and exclusive interviews are copyrighted; therefore there should be no republication without permission. You may email with any requests for republication. If permission is given, credit must be given to the author, Dot to Dot: Keeping Michael's Legacy Alive and the Michael Jackson Tribute Portrait.