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How Big Was Michael Jackson?

"Michael Jacksons" take the stage for Norouz in Kazakhstan.

"Michael Jacksons" take the stage for Norouz in Kazakhstan.

This big. It's March 2009 and I'm in Kazakhstan's former capital, Almaty, enjoying Norouz, the ancient celebration of spring that can be seen throughout Central Asia and Iran.

Thousands of Kazakhs have come to the Old Square to watch the Norouz pageant on a cavernous stage. There are Fire Dances, featuring men with spears dancing in gold lame, Kazakh opera and folk singers, and a series of elaborately staged dance acts representing the respective traditions of their Central Asian neighbors: Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Uzbeks.

Then in a jolting leap of the geographical fence, dozens of Michael Jackson look-alikes take the stage, dressed in black and white and wearing top hats. Striking all the familiar poses, they conclude Almaty's Norouz spectacle with a dance-at-your-seat rendition of "Billie Jean" that leaves the audience cheering.

That day the top hats vanquished the spears. And a tip of the former to you, Michael Jackson. What will Norouz in Kazakhstan be without you?

-- Ricki Green

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