My Alabama A&M University Presentation On "Dancing The Dream"

dancing the dream cover

On March 26th, 2013, I did a presentation at Alabama A&M University on Michael Jackson’s 1992 book Dancing The Dream as part of the university’s annual spring Books and Coffee series. Perhaps before launching into the presentation, I should explain a little bit about what the Books and Coffee series is. This is a series sponsored by the English department every spring, for which faculty members review a book of their choice to colleagues, students, and the community. Late last year, I submitted a request to review Dancing The Dream after learning that the committee had recently overturned the old rule that only current books could be reviewed. I was also encouraged after learning that one of my colleagues, Dr. Peter Green, was going to kick off the series with a presentation on the new James Brown biography, The One, by R.J. Smith. It seemed only natural, then, that James Brown’s greatest protoge’, Michael Jackson, should be the follow up act. Much to my delight, my request was met with an enthusiastic response, and in the month leading up to it, I had worked very hard at promoting the event to the community and encouraging student turnout. But little did I-or anyone-anticipate the standing-room-only crowd that gathered in the LRC multi-purpose room that day!

The crowd began filtering in about 12:00pm. By 12:25 or so it was already a packed room…and still more coming in! By the time I took the microphone at 12:30, I was looking out over a sea of faces. By the time it was over (so I was told) they were having to scramble to bring in extra chairs. Many had to end up standing in back of the room. I was later told that it was the largest turn-out A&M University had ever had for any Books and Coffee presentation. “It looked like a movie theatre in there,” said one colleague the next day.

I am still, a week later, overwhelmed and touched by this unprecedented response. I had so many kind words afterword, and so many asking to know more about this book and about Michael’s life-but, more importantly, asking to know more about his message.

Unfortunately, I did have to cut the presentation a bit shorter than initially planned, but when all was said and done, it turned out fine. So, as promised, I am going to let you guys see the presentation I gave and also, try to recreate the full experience as much as possible.

So here is the early crowd, starting to gather at just after 12pm:

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This was the room by roughly about 12:15:

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Standing room only in the back! (This area would be much more packed by the end of the hour! This was still at only about 12:15 or 12:20!):

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We had to make full use of the side seats as well!

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Door prizes included an Immortal CD, a commemorative Pepsi can, and a KFC gift card worth $20. I would have liked to have given away an actual copy of Dancing The Dream-and the idea had been discussed-but in the end, it didn’t prove to be a practical option. Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun with the prizes offered, and the drawing jar was full!

IMMORTAL_CDImage: Michael Jackson Pepsi canThis was taped to the table beside the door prize jar and KFC gift card!

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As the crowd was coming in, we played MJ music and this Power Point presentation I made looped continuously on the overhead monitor screens:

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Then, at about 12:20, I stopped the Power Point presentation and cranked up this video as a prelude:

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pp4YKOrNI1o[/tube]

At 12:25, I played this video, which then segued directly into my presentation:

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svLaStBYIK4[/tube]

At 12:30 I was introduced by Ms. Tania Hering of the Books and Coffee committee, and my presentation began:

Part One:
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27 thoughts on “My Alabama A&M University Presentation On "Dancing The Dream"”

  1. Raven….well done! You must have felt an immense sense of appreciation and pride to see so many eager participants in your presentation. Can you imagine how Michael, himself, would feel to witness you sharing his truth with those who really did want to know the real Michael Jackson? I believe in Heaven with all my heart and I hope there is some way that he can witness such beautiful dedications to him. It would be sweet, tender redemption.

    Wish I could have been there. I hope this is just the beginning of your contribution to share his beauty with those who may have missed it.

    Bless you, Raven. And, thanks for going to the effort to share with us.

    1. It was a very gratifying experience. If I’d had more time, I was going to show the clip of Michael’s first Christmas, the poem Wings Without Me, his 1988 Grammy performance of Man In The Mirror, and a clip of the poem “Heaven Is Here.” That is my one regret; I wished I’d had just a little more time to get more in because I was really just starting to get into what I felt was one of the main themes of the book-his own spiritual journey of self-discovery and enlightenment. But I would have easily been there another half hour had I tried to include everything, so I think I was able to find a good stopping point without selling the book too short.

      This was the clip of Wings Without Me that I had planned to show, but did not get to. There are a lot of clips of this poem on YT, but this one is my favorite:

      From there, I had planned to discuss the piece That One In The Mirror, which I believe is also an important message…a message of humility (i.e, not beating one’s self up when one can’t live up to some perfect “ideal” of one’s self) leading into Man In the Mirror.

      I had actually planned to close out with this piece:

      I probably could have skipped through some of Earth Song; I had considered it, but in the end, it just felt too much like a sacrilege. Earth Song is one of those performances where you either have to go all the way with it, or not at all. Even though the video wasn’t the greatest quality, there was something very palpable in that room when that clip started to play. You could have heard a pin drop; even voices that had been quite talkative earlier suddenly ceased. Yes, it was a somewhat crappy VHS quality video, but it didn’t seem to matter. Michael was still working his magic; holding a March, 2013 audience spellbound with a performance from over 17 years ago.

      Nevertheless, closing with the Joe Vogel passage still enabled me to get much of what Michael was saying with this piece across. This seems to me to encompass everything Michael was trying to get to in this book, which is the idea that we must find our own answers, and our own bliss within.

      1. On the heels of what I commented here last night, I wanted to add that I think understanding the piece “That One in the Mirror” is especially crucial with this AEG trial coming up. All one has to do is read some of the latest comments on CNN, such as those responses to the Murray interview (ugh!) to see how quick people are to judge Michael by his weaknesses, rather than his strengths. Yet don’t we all want to be admired for our highest ideals, not for those times when we cannot live up to them? In essence, this seemed to be a big part of his message in That One in the Mirror. Michael is speaking in that piece of the duality within himself and all of us-the part that desires to be strong, pro-active and make change in the world vs. that part of us that can be selfish, or cowardly and weak-or simply not care. We would all be lying if we said there are not times when we are apathetic to the world’s problems. I love this piece because it acknowledges his humanity so honestly. “Seeing ‘problems’ was much easier, because love means complete self-honesty. Ouch!” Later in the piece, he comes to the realization that he can’t force these two sides of himself to come together-“that one in the mirror has his doubts sometimes”- but if he is “tender” with “that one” when he has his doubts, rather than beating him up, they can learn to dance together as partners. And when you think about it, isn’t that true of all of us?

        Again, when I read those comments, I see so many judging Michael by his weaknesses rather than his strengths-of which he had many. I will go back to a quote I love from one of the earlier editions of an English 102 text from which I used to teach. It was from a prologue advising instructors how to deal with those situations when students ask the tough questions about a particular author’s life. “If we waited for all of our great art to come to us from perfect human beings, we would be waiting a long time indeed.” In fact, one could take that quote a bit further and question whether indeed we would have any great art at all, for great art isn’t born out of “perfection.” It is born out of the darkness and struggles of our humanity, as well as the light.

        The beauty of it is that we actually do not need the tabloids, or the “trash” books written by those who pretend to be “experts” on him. Michael was a far greater MJ “expert” than any of us, and he documented all of his pains and struggles for us, as well as selling us on an ideal of himself. He was honest when he fell-many of the pieces from DTD as well as the HIStory and Blood on the Dance Floor albums chronicle those dark places, with complete honesty and without flinching. He had to have known that he would alienate some of his audience with those songs; those who only wanted the “happy song and dance man.” Yet he knew he would also gain many new fans who would appreciate his depth and honesty. It was a risk, and he took it.

        I believe Dancing The Dream is a very important book, especially now when, once again, Michael’s humanity is being put under the magnifying glass. Like all of us, he wanted to be remembered for his strengths and for the good things he accomplished with his life-in his case, some great things. People love to try to belittle/tear down what he accomplished, but his work and his words will still be here long after all the tabloid chattel has turned to dust seed.

  2. Oh, Raven, this is fantastic! I now managed to watch all videos and it made me really emotional. This is how Michael should be celebrated and understood. This is an inspiring example and very encouraging. Congratulations for your success!
    You took wonderful excerpts from the book. I’m glad you didn’t shorten Earth Song. I like the powerful Brunei clip, where you can see so clearly Michael’s emotional commitment in his face at the end of Earth Song. I think he was especially serious about his Earth Song message here because of the island where the concert took place. The Sultanate of Brunei is on the island of Borneo where flora and fauna are very much threatened by the decline of the tropical rain forest. Every year huge areas of forest are destroyed, either through fire or through clearing for palm oil plantations. I think he was aware of that and felt his message to be very important at that place.

    1. I did not know that about Brunei; thanks for sharing!

      I actually think this perofrmance has more power than many of the ones he did later with all the fancy trimmings, though I do love the theatrical aspects he later worked into it. I also love the TII performance, which again was very stripped down and raw (with the added poignancy of knowing it was his very last performance).

  3. Raven, I wish I were many years younger and a student in your class. Thank you so much for sharing your presentation with us.
    The AEG trial has hardly begun, yet the vultures are circling. I’ve been so disturbed by all of it; so much ignorance and avarice among those unwilling to study and understand the man. I found your statement “and his words will still be here long after all the tabloid chattel has turned to dust seed” to be very reassuring.

    1. I really am not looking forward to this trial, even though I understand in part why it is coming about. I am not a KJ basher; I feel for her as an elderly woman who has endured a horrible ordeal that no mother should ever have to endure. I don’t believe it is about money. I believe she just wants justice and closure and, as the old saying goes, “to make them pay.” I know not everyone will agree with me on that, but it is how I see it. However, the cost may be higher in the damage this can do to Michael’s repuation with all of the dirt-regardless of what is true or exaggerated-surfacing again. That being said, I do believe any such “damage” will be short term. People today, in general, are much more media savvy than even a decade ago; plus, they are also aware that most anything AEG’s lawyers may dig up is old news, anyway. That is the perspective we have to keep in mind. The purpose here isn’t to re-try Michael on old allegations, although, of course, the media will at times try to make it appear that way because their only interest is in the revenue that can be generated from this story. And controversy is what sells.

      While I sympathize with Katherine, there is a bigger part of me that feels it is time to finally let Michael RIP. It’s bad enough that the last years of his life had to be one court appearance and one lawsuit after another; even in death, he has already been subjected yet again to one very public and humiliating trial. (After all, Michael deserves to be remembered for what he accomplished with his life, not for how he had to die). That trial, of course, was necessary for bringing Murray to justice. I am not as certain of the “necessity” of this trial. It’s not that I believe AEG bear no burden of blame; on the contrary, I think they do. But the cost of taking on this Goliath is going to be much bigger than the Murray trial, and I think we are going to see much dirtier play from their lawyers. It also bugs me somewhat that there seems to be much more media interest in this trial already than in the whole of the Murray trial, which actually received very little coverage outside of CourtTV and HLN. Most people I talked to during the Murray trial weren’t even aware it was happening! The reason why this bothers me is that I still see so many people who are totally ignorant of the circumstances and evidence that came to light during that trial. Many did not actively follow that trial; thus, they only heard the occasional sound bites from CNN, etc. I still get questions from people like, “What did they ever do about that doctor of his?” Yet everyone seems to be aware of this trial and the mud slinging that has already begun. I think from the media standpoint, it is the attraction of this being a huge entertainment entity like AEG, rather than just a lowly physician whose name no one even knew before Michael’s death.

      1. Hi Raven, there is also a bigger part of me that says it’s time to let Michael rest in peace. Certain medialoid members are already having a field day, resorting to their usual uninformed blatherings about Michael. Just today, a fairly reputable CNN anchor referred to the plaintiffs in the AEG case as the “Michael Jackson Estate”! It needs to end.

  4. Bravo Raven!
    You did a wonderful job with this presentation. Very well thought out and the care and consideration you put into it was very obvious. It flowed really well too. I’m so glad you shared it with us so we could experience it as well. Pity you ran out of time to show all that you wanted to.

    So great to hear that many who attended wanted to delve deeper into Michael’s messages following your presentation. I believe this is how his truth and legacy will best be shared and continued. From one to another, paying it forward with those we encounter during our daily lives.

    You are planting seeds in your patch of our planet earth and I hope they blossom so the truth about Michael will be spread far and wide.
    Bless you much Raven. Thankyou for all you continue to do for Michael.
    Much Love
    <3

    1. Thank you Tania, June, Larisa, Louis, and Nicolette. I haven’t had a chance yet to personally reply to your comments but all of your kind words are most appreciated.

    2. Yes, I was invited to teach a class on spitituality based on Michael’s writings from DTD after it was over. This may be something I will be doing over the summer; not sure yet as all of the details haven’t been worked out.

  5. Thank you, Raven. Unfortunately, for some reason for me the video sequences just stop at a certain point–maybe I will try later. I heard the first 6 minutes or so of the first part–you really just dove right in and I admire that you wasted no time to get to the heart of it all. I like so much how you broke down DTD into the 3 categories–the creative process, the environmental message (before it was ‘In” to be for the environment), and the journey of self-discovery. This is a great way to break down the major themes in DTD. I also liked how you made the point that DTD is more autobiographical than the first book Moonwalk. I hope I can watch the rest later when my computer will cooperate! You did a great job!! YAY!!

    I also like very much the poem/reflection ‘That One in the Mirror”–for different reasons though. I like how he talks about courage at the end–being strong and standing up for the Earth.

    Are you going to post these on Youtube?

    1. We originally tried posting them on Youtube to embed them here, but since YT only allows videos to be posted in 15 minute increments it wasn’t practical as the presentation would have had to be chopped up even more than it already is. However, I just ran your comment by Shane and he said we could re-code them and upload to YT (they would have to be in four installments rather than three) but it would take him some time to do it, he said.

      If you have a slower computer, that may explain the problem with the vids. I have the same issue with my currrent desktop; sometimes it will just freeze right in the middle of a video. I guess these things can vary from computer to computer. I checked in the other evening while at work and the screencaps for the vids were not loading (it just looked like three blank, black boxes although you could still click on and play them); however, from another computer in the office, they loaded and played just fine. I think these videos are slower to load than those embedded directly from YT, and in this case, there are three of them loading simultaneously. I’ll check them again and see how they are playing. My sister said she was only able to listen to them, and could not see anything, but then again, I also know she has a very old and slow computer, so who knows what was going on there.

      Yes, the idea behind having the Power Point slideshow that played earlier was to remind the audience of Michael’s many accomplishments, so that by the time I got up to speak, I could just launch directly into the book. Really, Michael Jackson needs no introduction-and the crowd turnout was a testament to that. Nevertheless, I think for young people especially, it is a good idea to remind them of all the reasons why we celebrate this man and his achievements. I tried to encapsulate most of that into the pre-presentation material, so I could devote the time I had to talking about the book.

  6. Thanks for sharing this Raven..it’s also nice to be able to put a face to the name!!

    I followed along with your “readings” with my copy of DTD when I watched the vids yesterday, and I felt as though I was part of the audience. I liked the pieces you selected to get the message across, and am pleased it was all so very well received.You really did Michael proud.

    Today I have read DTD from cover to cover and it has left me distraught..like there was a big empty hole inside of me.. I didn’t expect that. I’ve read it at least 3 times before and some bits of it more often . It usually leaves me feeling a little sad but at the same time quite joyous.

    Today for some reason , despite the occasional naivety of Michael’s style, it made me realise that the cliche is so true. He was ahead of his time and his message is so clear.. and sometimes prophetic..(“so the elephants march”). Without wishing to sound too “sacharine” I have come to see all the different aspects of his life as necessary pieces of a jigsaw, and why he had to experience the extremes he did.. and oddly enough it seems to have been for our benefit.. ie those of us who “get” him.

    (I am very disappointed that the AEG trial will not be televised. Because I live in the UK I was able to watch every live minute of the Conrad Murray trial( because of the time difference it started early evening ).. and I watched expert witnesses blow so many myths, and perceptions right out of the water, especially the so-called “drug addiction”. I also saw how later news coverage, still managed to create ambiguity. So I can see Michael is going to be on trial again, and I feel it will be relentless..sometimes don’t you just wish all those daft “death hoaxers” were right. I’d love to see the looks on those self-righteous faces when Michael walked back through the door .. if only )

    Oh by the way .. hope your back is improving.. Have you tried arnica gel?.. rub it on your back ( well probably ask someone to do it for you !!) and then cover with a warm towel…very comforting ….

    1. I hadn’t heard if it had ever been decided for certain regarding the televised coverage of the trial. But then, I’ve been a bit out of the loop on news this weekend what with my back and all; not much computer time until today. I finally am feeling better enough to sit up and type.

      In some ways, a non-televised trial is not a good thing. What I like about having it televised is the fact that it gives us an opportunity to see for ourselves exactly how the testimony plays out, and it makes it harder for the media to manipulate or twist things out of context when we can all see the coverage for ourselves. This was precisely what gave the media such carte blanche to run wild with the prosecution side during the 2005 trial, while all but ignoring the defense arguements. I am afraid this trial, again being non-televised, may result in the same thing, with media outlets only choosing to focus on whatever evidence portrays Michael in a negative light.

      So The Elephants March is one of the strongest pieces in DTD, and (in my opinion) his best attempt at writing a fable-type story. It was a piece that I had originally wanted to include in the presentation, but again, time was such a factor and, in the end, I had to make some painful decisions as to what to include and what to leave out. In the end, I felt that it was more important for the audience to actually hear Michael reading Planet Earth, than to present yet another vid of some anonymous narrator reading his work. But this vid of So the Elephants March is so beautiful:

  7. Thanks Raven.. the elephants video is lovely. I have watched many You-Tube videos of Michael, but had never come across the DTD ones before. (I love Michael’s reading of Planet Earth.)

    My point exactly about a non-televised trial.

    Hope your back continues to improve.

  8. Raven,this is fantastic!!!Tank you soooo much for all your love and suport, in honor of Michael.
    Greetings from Portugal
    Lia

  9. Hi, Raven, I managed to see all of 2 videos but the first one still stops at some point, although I am getting more of it than I did before. It is a wonderful presentatation. I love the characterization of Earth Song as a ‘lament”–I agree very much. You did an outstanding job and I am sure wowed the audience as we are also wowed! I agree DTD is a very important book–one that outlines Michael’s main concerns and shows his poetry, his mind, his philosopohy in such detail and with such sensitivity and beauty. Thanks also for quoting from Joe Vogel’s new edition of Earth Song. I read the first edition and realize there’s a lot more in the new edition, so now I have to read it!

  10. I often read ‘Dancing the Dream’ as it makes me feel I am close to Michael’s soul. I have owned two copies, one I gave to a grieving friend who lost her husband and daughter in the same year! Her daughter was an MJ fan. The second one I treasure because my sceptical son still searched London to buy it for me last Christmas despite there only being two left in the city, so he said! Amazing as one time he said, ‘As long as I don’t have to read it.’ when he ordered it for me on Amazon! I wonder if he took a peep this time? Progress! Do you think the words, ‘We’ll do it’. in ‘Children of the World’ mean ‘play, love, hug and have fun’, as I believe. The reason I ask is because I was so disgusted and angry once when a horrible ignorant couple of radio show hosts once mocked and made fun of those words. I hope you are not offended by my question. It has bothered me for a long time. Perhaps it is just fun-loving Michael making us wonder, teasing us, being ambiguous and keeping us guessing, as he often did?

    1. Well, I certainly don’t think there would have been any sexual connotation to it, if that’s what those talk show hosts were implying! In all honesty, if one reads that poem closely and is familiar with his works from DTD, he is in all likelihood not even addressing it to “children” at all! Remember, many of the works in DTD are dedicated to the idea of connecting to-and maintaining-the inner child in ourselves. He refers to himself as “Magical Child.” I think that poem is addressed to adults who have found that path to enlightenment through their connection to that inner child. “We’ll do it” is an anthemic cry to all of us; an anthemic cry to, as he says, “touch the stars, embrace the moon”; to dance that dance of bliss.” Of course, perverted minds can twist those words, as so many did. But I firmly believe a poem like Children of the World cannot be taken out of the context of Michael’s larger body of work. It takes a full analysis and deep understanding of his full body of work and artistic vision to truly appreciate a poem like Children of the World in its proper context.

  11. I am always so envious – having graduated college decades ago – when I now see students being able to participate in courses or seminars on Michael, his work, creative process, business acumen, etc. I wld give anything to be able to participate in any academic study of his genius. So I am particularly grateful that you posted your discussion of DTD. I wasn’t able to view all of it because of some glitch in the video but what I was able to view felt so good – to hear Michael honored in such a caring, thoughtful and respectful way. I wish he were here to be able to see how he has become the catalyst for such intellectual/academic endeavors. As one whose quest for knowledge seemed infinite, he would surely be proud.

    I can hardly get through “Earth Song” in any venue without getting emotional but this Brunei version is so pure that not only is it my favorite but I always end up with tears streaming down my face. Michael pours out his soul with such raw passion. He is our beloved…

  12. Hi Raven

    have tried several times to listen to your presentation, but unfortuntely the sound is awful and lurches along so badly that I cannot make out a word of it. Very disappointing for me as I am sure I am missing a great presentation on a book that has become my Bible!!

    1. Unfortunately there probably isn’t much that can be done about that. The vids will load differently on different computers. We are going to upload them to Youtube; the only reason we did not do so before is because we didn’t want to have to break the presentation up into four/five videos, since on YT you can only upload up to 15 minutes at a time. To do so meant breaking the presentation up in some very awkward places, but it may be the only solution. The vids seem to play fine on most computers (I have watched/listened to them both at home and at work with no problems) but on older computers that take longer to load, for example, it may be a problem. The issue you are describing, however, sounds like it could be your video card. I can’t say for sure, though. I’m not the most tech savvy person out there; for me, it’s usually easier and less hassle just to embed from Youtube when I can, but Shane (my husband) thought this would be a better option. Of course, as bad as he hates to admit it (lol) he is sometimes wrong.

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