On Tuesday (October 20), "Dancing With the Stars" featured a performance by Norah Jones and the elimination of Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin and her partner, Alec Mazo. But the real highlight of the night came when the show's professional dancers took time out of their busy competing schedules to pay tribute to Michael Jackson, who had a tremendous influence on dance culture during his career.
Host Tom Bergeron noted that throughout the show's four-year history, Jackson's songs have been used by the contestants 17 times. Pro dancer Louis van Amstel reflected on Jackson's influence: "It's really important to do this tribute because he pretty much opened doors, and I thank him for opening doors for all of us."
Mark Ballas loved channeling Jackson the several times he danced to his tunes on the show. "It just felt so great to dance to MJ songs and feel his moves," he said. "He's just an inspiration to all of us. He will be missed."
"He gave the world so much happiness and joy, and his music will live forever," fellow dancer Kym Johnson added.
As several Jackson family members sat in the audience, including Jackson's mom, Katherine, and siblings Jermaine and La Toya, the dancers took the stage to pay a special ballroom tribute to the late superstar. "Michael Jackson was a major loss to the entertainment community 'cause he inspired them to step up," Jermaine said in a pre-taped interview. "It just wasn't about the movement, it was about the feeling. There will only be one Michael Jackson forever."
"Michael liked all kinds of choreography. He liked 'Dancing With the Stars,' " La Toya revealed. "He was a fan of the show."
Dancer Karina Smirnoff noted that his influence was far-reaching. "He influenced not only dancing itself, but choreography. We lost not only an icon, but we lost the father of dance and choreography," she said.
La Toya introduced the tribute in a royal-blue gown, noting that her brother would be proud to see his legacy live on. The dancers, decked out in MJ garb, including short pants, white socks, single white gloves, red leather jackets and sparkles, kicked things off with the vintage Jackson 5 hit "I Want You Back."
They then slowed the pace down a bit with "Man in the Mirror," performing it as a very fluid ballroom dance mixed with ballet. Then came one of MJ's most iconic dance moments as the group danced to "Thriller," even reenacting the famous zombie dance moves from the video.
Dancer Cheryl Burke, who left the show after her partner, Tom DeLay, was injured earlier in the season, returned for the big tribute. In the days leading up to the show, she gushed to MTV News about the chance to honor her hero on "DWTS."
"He was a huge influence for me in my dancing career," she said. "I think a lot of us professional dancers can say the same. So we're really excited about it. ... 'Thriller' is one of my favorites of all time."
Don't miss "Michael Jackson's This Is It" Premiere Special, airing on MTV and VH1 on Tuesday, October 27 at 8:30 p.m. ET! "Michael Jackson's This Is It" opens in a limited engagement on October 27 and wide on October 28.
Check out everything we've got on "Michael Jackson's This Is It."