Thriller Time

A Toronto Woman Wants To Break A World Record With The King Of Pop's Famous Zombie Dance -- And Baltimore Is Ready To Help

August 30, 2009|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,

About 40 purported grown-ups recently got in touch with their inner zombies - though it's probably fair to say that precious few actual representatives of the moldering undead give way to fits of giggles while performing the Booty Swim.

Rose Bean, 56, of Taneytown, a stalwart of not one, but two, roller-skating clubs, couldn't suppress a very un-zombielike "hee-hee" as she tried to replicate the dance move demonstrated by instructor Cheryl Goodman, which consists of a rapid butt-wriggle coupled with a breast-stroking motion made by the arms.

Behind her, Gary Dunn, 50, a lifelong dancer, momentarily clenched his tongue between his teeth and bugged out his eyes, as though trying to recall in which section of the graveyard, exactly, he'd lost his mind.

Bean, Dunn and the rest are preparing an offbeat tribute to entertainer Michael Jackson, who will be buried this week in a private ceremony. Goodman hopes to gather 250 costumed zombie-wannabes at the Inner Harbor on Oct. 24 to perform the dance from "Thriller."

They'll be executing their maneuvers at precisely the same moment as thousands - ideally, hundreds of thousands - of the King of Pop's fans from around the globe do the same. The celebration, called "Thrill the World," is being organized by a Toronto woman hoping to break the existing record for the largest number of people performing the same dance at different venues.

"If we're ever going to break the record, this will be the year," says Ines Markelle, 28. She has been organizing the tribute to Jackson for the fourth year in a row, though this is the first time that Baltimore has been represented.

"It's so sad that Michael died," she says. "I think he'd be happy that so many people are signing up to learn his dance, and happy that we donate the proceeds to charities. One year, we gave some money to the victims of the California wildfires, and another year, to people left homeless by the Texas hurricane. That's what Michael, and Thrill the World, is all about."

Markelle acknowledges that she has a major recruiting effort ahead of her if she is to wrest the world record from the current holder of the title, a sports institute in the Netherlands. On Nov. 16, 2006, a grand total of 264,188 Dutch men and women gathered in 1,472 locations around Holland and strutted their stuff to the strains of "What a Feeling."

With nearly two months to go before Thrill the World, more than 230 events have been planned in 31 countries and 44 U.S. states. People will be executing movements that Markelle has dubbed the "Hip 'N' Roar" and the "Wuz Up" in South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia and Brazil.

Ever since the groundbreaking music video was released in 1982, "Thriller" has been igniting a primal urge in people to shake their hips and jerk their necks to a disco rhythm.

Two years ago, a performance by more than 1,500 inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines became an overnight Internet sensation. So popular was the performance video on YouTube that the prisoners choreographed routines to other songs. They perform regularly for visitors stationed on observation platforms above the prison yard.

And last fall, 881 people in Austin, Texas, performed "Thriller" in an attempt to set the world record for the largest simultaneous dance in one location. (The Guinness folks have yet to issue a ruling.)

"We've had Army and naval officers stationed in Guam and Kuwait learn 'Thriller'," Markelle says. "And last year, we had an event in Saudi Arabia. The women had to be separated from the men, and they could not be photographed or filmed, but they still performed."

Markelle has a home video taken of her at age 3 in which she imitates her hero. "I grew up on 'Thriller,' " she says. "My mom played it all the time. So there I am, bobbing my head and snapping my fingers, and doing what I thought at the time was the moonwalk. Actually, it was more like the chicken walk."

Even when she was a disaffected 16, Markelle continued to dress up as Jackson for Halloween, in a copy of the red pants and red jacket with black stripes that the King of Pop wears in the film. Friends - and, eventually, strangers - asked her to show them how to execute the steps, and Thrill the World was born.

As a freelance dancer with virtually no extraneous income, Markelle has marketed the event exclusively over the Internet. (Perform a Google search for "Thriller Dance" and the Thrill the World Web site will pop up in the first page.) Despite this relatively low-key approach, the event has grown significantly since the debut performance in 2006, when just 62 people boogied to the beat in Toronto.

Now there is an instructional packet and video that Markelle mails to groups planning to participate, along with a sheet specifying the record-setting procedures required by Guinness.

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