Beyonce, what got into you?

Strutting through a swirl of smoke at the start of her Super Bowl halftime show last night, the golden-maned songstress pounded the stage, each step of her black stiletto heels hitting with sledgehammer force.

While singing “Crazy in Love,” her famous backside shiver went off the Richter scale. Taking her place in a line of backup dancers, Beyonce rocked her hips in an ecstatic seizure.

This wasn’t bootylicious. It was booty-vicious. And it was glorious.

Twenty years after Michael Jackson’s appearance transformed the halftime show into a event rivaling the game itself, the ferocious physicality of Beyonce’s performance raised the bar for everyone. But don’t forget that line of dancers up there with her. The superstar wasn’t prowling the stage alone, and this made her show even more consequential. Beyonce brought the female-empowerment themes from her songs to life by surrounding herself in a sea of women. She was joined at one point by Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, the bandmates from her former group Destiny’s Child; she was surrounded by dozens and dozens of female dancers, and accompanied by female brass musicians. On a football field devoted to the tale of two brothers, the pop queen launched a sister act of titanic proportions.

With the supernova these ladies lit in the Superdome, was it really a surprise when the power konked out after the football game resumed? Things couldn’t possibly stay the same after Beyonce had left the building.

The pyrotechnics, the Busby-Berkeley light show, the clever video-replication of women in silhouette, rows of them blinking on and off in flashes of whoa-how’d-they-do-that–it all made for a feast of the unexpected. But never mind the spectacle. The greatest source of energy was Beyonce herself.

She took a risk with such a physical show, dancing like it was the end of time while flying her voice from the growling depths to silvery heights. (Her singing suffered somewhat from the exertion.) Something we’d never seen before from this ordinarily cool, controlled diva came out in New Orleans: a raging, full-bore athleticism.

Yes, she was wearing a devastatingly sexy black teddy–plunging neckline cut to her navel–but the garment was leather, not satin, and in it Beyonce wasn’t merely burlesquing. Here was a 21st-century goddess, full-bodied, but with the muscular power of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. Beyonce’s athleticism doesn’t get enough credit. Do not question it; did you see her sink to her knees and rise up again in those heels, sans thigh cramps?

You can only marvel at Beyonce’s ability to scoop out of her long, snaking torso new mysteries of the human figure. Whirling her hair in a deliberately off-kilter spin that would toss the rest of us on our ears, she seemed anchored to her own proprietary force of gravity.

“I wanna feel your energy,” she called out to the thousands on the stadium floor, asking them to reach their hands toward her before she crooned “Halo” back to them. But even here, her sweet waltz of a love song gained gale force. Kneeling at the lip of the stage, Beyonce thrashed her long locks, whipping the closest fans with a hurricane of hair.

It was a fitting image to end with, because Beyonce’s show was a formidable storm. Her vocals were underpowered, but her physical output, the snap in her joints, the strength in her legs, her unflagging stamina–along with her willingness to push herself and put her polished image at risk–all reached a new level. It was a show of uncommon bravery. And something else: a magnificent vision of female power, breathtaking in its scope.

See past Super Bowl performances:

Beyonce brings sexy back to the Super Bowl
The Great Super Bowl blackout relived in tweets