Indy’s Greg Butler impersonates Michael Jackson in Sun Bowl show
Dancing in Michael Jackson’s shoes is no easy trick, but Indianapolis, IN, senior Greg Butler will make it look that way when he imitates the pop icon in the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band’s halftime show at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, TX, on Dec. 31.
Crowd reaction, and interest in showcasing a Hoosier legend at the Sun Bowl, prompted Purdue Band Director David A. Leppla to reprise the “Michael Jackson Tribute” which the band showcased at two early season football games – Illinois State and Notre Dame.
Attitude, smooth moves and a heightened sense of fun characterize Butler’s performance which has him gesturing with a sequined gloved hand, executing the moonwalk and doing hat tricks with Purdue’s Golden Girl Robyn Andrews as part of his dance routine.
“After the first show in September, I thought ‘Boy, I hope I get to do this again.’ When Dr. Leppla said ‘Let’s take this to the bowl,’ I got all excited again,” says the Warren Central graduate. Butler usually plays mellophone with the “All-American” Band, but when the band’s directors asked for student input as they put the show together last fall Butler approached them about a Michael Jackson imitation.
The decision was a no-brainer for the directors who were well aware of Butler’s crowd-pleasing dance antics at the Purdue women’s basketball games. During his four years in the Gold & Black Sound basketball band, it’s become tradition for the mellophone player to direct and dance in front of the band on certain songs.
At the Sun Bowl half time, national TV audiences will see Butler perform to “Bad” with the “All-American” Band’s Golduster dance squad, and team up with Purdue’s Golden Girl on a medley of “Billy Jean” and “Smooth Criminal.”
Both pieces capture Jackson’s spirit and signature moves, but Butler doesn’t pretend to incorporate the icon’s every nuance. “As far as dance moves, Michael Jackson’s way too complicated. He’s too smooth. I try to pick out little things I can imitate and do well. The rest I throw my own little things in there.”
Trips to thrift stores netted the necessary costume items, and his roommate’s mother, Nancy Bangel of West Lafayette, reworked and decorated them for his performance.
When the band traveled to Notre Dame, Butler had young autograph seekers track him after the show, that’s added to the fun he’s had with the Jackson imitation. “I just try to have fun with it, and people seem to like it so everyone benefits. I’m having fun, the band’s having fun, and the fans - it’s a win-win situation,” says Butler.
The trip to the Sun Bowl will be the fourth consecutive bowl trip for the elementary education major. He hopes fans watching the band at the bowl, and on TV, will “see how special we are and how special music is, not just to Purdue, but to all people in some way. More than anything, I hope that our excitement and energy will show our love of music and influence younger kids to pick up an instrument,” Butler says.
Being in the “All-American” Band has taught Butler many things and given him a family away from home during his years at Purdue. “I come from a big family. I was accustomed to being around my people all the time, and when I left Indianapolis an hour had never seemed so far away,” he recalls. But “it only took a couple of days and a new family extension developed” with the band.
Looking back, the senior remembers how strong that family feeling was the first time the band formed its Block “P” in Ross-Ade Stadium, and it’s a memory he says he’ll never forget. “ It gave me goose bumps because we were all in one accord, operating as a unit. That was so important because I can play many instruments and most I do fine soloing with. But in this group it feels good to be apart of something too big for me to do alone, but to play a role that is critical to the success of the group. This makes me dependent on everyone else and everyone else dependent on me, and to me, that is a great feeling to be connected like that.”