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Monday, June 6, 2016

Muhammad and Merce

--   By Tom Phillips
Muhammad Ali, 1942-2016
If Muhammad Ali was the greatest boxer of all time, it wasn't because he could punch the hardest. For Ali, the best offense was a good defense -- and the key was his dancing.

The "Ali Shuffle" was his signature step, and it set him apart from any other heavyweight.  He danced with both feet in the air, hovering, shuffling, so you never knew which foot he would land on, or where he would go. The feet were like a hummingbird's wings, a blur. Meanwhile the hands accompanied the dance, mixing jabs, hooks, and right-hand leads with innumerable fakes. At the top, Ali invented the bobblehead, flicking his neck backward and sideways to avoid his opponent’s fists.

He was his own dance master, making up strategy in the ring, in the moment. If he could be compared to a choreographer, it would be Merce Cunningham, who understood the uses of chance. Not even Merce knew how the music would work with the dance, until it happened on the stage. Not even Ali knew where he was going next, until it happened in the ring.