Since 1995, Brian Woolridge has been dancing in downtown Ann Arbor. But soon, he might pack up his boom box and bags of Michael Jackson CDs and leave the town and the state after 14 years of regularly performing his King-of-Pop moves here.
Ann Arbor residents might know Woolridge as “the Michael Jackson guy.” He’s the one moonwalking in the alley on Liberty Street near the Michigan Theater on weekends. People strolling by wave to him as he spins and slides, Jackson’s vocals echoing against the alley’s graffiti-splashed walls and out onto the street.
But his life isn’t all dance. Woolridge lost his job in September, and he says he hasn’t had much luck looking for work. He’s not sure about his plans for the future, but they may involve leaving Michigan.
A soft-spoken man, he furrows his brow as he recalls his struggle to gain unemployment benefits. He said he had to go to a couple court hearings. “I had to fight for it,” Woolridge said.
He’s been doing a little cleaning work, but he’s not searching for anything more right now. “I’m going to wait for my unemployment time to run out,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to say what the next step is going to be.”
That probably means he’ll wait until the end of the summer to make his next move, he said.
He makes some money from his dancing. When The Chronicle stopped by earlier this month, the cardboard box he’d set up at the mouth of the alley was filled with a thin layer of dollar bills and coins. Woolridge said he makes about $50 per weekend. When he started, it was $100 or more. Now, he says he guesses he’s just getting old.
Woolridge, who grew up in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area, started his downtown performances after noticing that the alley he currently occupies wasn’t being used for anything. He’s had no formal dance training and says he learned just by watching Jackson. Although he didn’t want to be a professional dancer when he was younger, he recalls that he did want to be an entertainer.
“I liked entertaining people, and Michael did it,” Woolridge said. “I grew up with Michael Jackson. He was always my favorite.”
Woolridge took a shot at greater fame this past March when he traveled to Chicago to audition for NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” “I guess I did ok,” Woolridge said. “But they didn’t call me back.”
For now, Woolridge is still stationed in his alley, equipped with his boom box, CD collection and a worn-looking black fedora. “A lot of people say, ‘Keep dancing,’” Woolridge said. “I really don’t know how much longer I’ll keep doing this.”
About the author: Helen Nevius, a student at Eastern Michigan University, is an intern with The Ann Arbor Chronicle.