Imagine being a dancer in one of Michael Jackson’s most iconic music videos. That’s what Yamuna Sangarasivam experienced when she was cast as an Odissi dancer in “Black or White” in 1991.
Yamuna was a huge fan of the King of Pop, but she never expected to meet him, let alone dance with him. She was studying anthropology of dance at UCLA when she heard about his request for ethnic and modern dancers. She decided to audition for the project as a way to learn about ethnography, a method of studying cultures.
She was thrilled when she got selected from over 3,000 applicants. She said that working with Michael Jackson was amazing and that he was very gracious, humble and kind. He even sent a Mercedes to pick her up and brought her mother a warm blanket on set.
Yamuna’s 20-second duet with Michael Jackson on an LA expressway made her famous among her friends and family. She said that people still recognize her from the video and ask her about it.
Today, Yamuna is a professor of anthropology and director of the Women and Gender Studies Program at Nazareth College in New York. She teaches courses on identity, culture and sexuality. She also continues to practice Odissi dance, a classical form from India.
Watch Michael and Yamuna rehearse for ‘Black or White’:
And of course watch the two together, as we’ve seen them 100s of times in the ‘Black or White’ short film: