Thrill the World’s Dancing Undead

Toronto group seeks Oakland's help in staging largest simultaneous "Thriller" dance.

It goes without saying that large choreographed zombie dances to Michael Jackson’s song “Thriller” are hardly an anomalous occurrence. Perhaps the biggest testament to the dance’s enduring popularity is a 2007 clip of some 1,500 inmates at a Filipino prison executing syncopated, herky-jerky movements to the six-minute anthem. The video, which became an instant Internet sensation, now has nearly 49 million views on YouTube. Credit is due to the pop song that nearly three decades after its release can still compel large groups of people to affect the dance moves of the living dead.

But one organization takes the “Thriller” craze to a whole new level. Since 2007, Thrill the World has orchestrated zombie-garbed groups of dancers from China to Canada in attempts to set the world record for the largest simultaneous “Thriller” dance. It’s a carefully synchronized global effort that has drawn tens of thousands of participants across continents and time zones, with some groups comprised of as many as one thousand dancers and in some cases as few as ten. Collectively, it amounts to a fairly prodigious endeavor.

“Realizing that there are thousands of people all around the world that are doing exactly the same thing as you are and forgetting about all our differences and just doing something for love, that’s what this is about,” said Thrill the World’s international event manager, Kathleen Kelley, who explained that beyond their record-breaking aspirations, each group of dancers raises funds for a different charity. “But you’ve got to be a little silly to be interested in this,” she added. “People are getting dressed up as zombies and they’re putting on makeup..”

It’s an understatement to say that the event, started in Toronto by choreographer Ines Markeljevic, has grown rapidly since she established the first Guinness World Record for “Largest Thriller Dance.” Since the category hadn’t yet been created, it took just 62 dancers in one Canadian city to establish the first official record. When Markeljevic added the simultaneous element to the venture the following year, the zombie dance fever spread to 1,722 people across twelve countries. Those numbers increased dramatically each year until 2009, when the current record of 22,596 dancers in 32 countries was set, certified by the UK-based Record Holders Republic. (Apparently, some bureaucratic issues have prevented the group records from making the Guinness Book, but organizers said they’re aiming for inclusion in this year’s edition.)

Local zombies won’t have to trudge far to join in on this year’s world-record attempt. Although Kelley’s involvement has grown to international proportions, she brings Thrill the World to Oakland’s Studio One Art Center (365 45th St.) on Saturday, October 29. She’s been holding practices at the center since June, but unacquainted dancers can pick up last-minute pointers at a 3 p.m. dance workshop the day of the event. And whatever a prospective participant’s level of dance savvy, Kelley offers some words of encouragement: “They don’t have to feel self-conscious, because they’re zombies — and zombies are very bad dancers.” Registration begins at 2:30 p.m., dance starts at 7 p.m. (arrive at least one hour early to be included in the count); $5 donation.


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