Everyone has a "Thriller" memory, and mine is painfully New Wave: around 1984, my ballet-school partner and I broke curfew to see the video's midnight debut at Portland's old Metro dance club. Our high-school troupe was dancing it, and seeing it stomp across the big screen totally, totally
made up for being grounded later. And so when I heard that Portland was joining Thrill the World
, a simultaneous international dance performance of the Thriller choreography last Saturday at Holocene
, I had to go. (Scroll down to the bottom of the post for video).
Canadian dancer Ines Markeljevic started Thrill the World (www.thrilltheworld.com) after organizing Thrill Toronto, an attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the largest Thriller dance. Thrill Toronto attracted 62 people; this year, Markeljevic went global, and at press time, participants in approximately 80 cities, in 17 countries, on five continents had registered. (No word on whether these included the Filipino inmates whose prison-yard Thriller performance
—a new kind of Thrilla in Manila—recently dominated YouTube.)
Portlander Alan Silver organized the Portland installment
after spotting the event on a blog. And Hailyn Hoops, who remembered seeing the video at a neighbor's house in high school (“It scared the shit out of me,” she said), led the three-hour workshop preceding the 3 pm performance. As part of her mission, Makeljevic recorded an instructional DVD that breaks down the dance into eight-count sections, and gives the steps silly but memorable names (“shuffle ha slide,” “hip and roar”) to be repeated aloud, zombie-like, during practice. “By the way, is this anyone else's lifelong dream?” Hoops asked as the DVD flickered to life on the back wall.
Once practice got underway, there were about 40 zombies crammed into Holocene's darkened back room, trying hard not to gouge each others' eyes out with the zombie swim step. One participant came in a Michael Jackson 1988 concert tour T-shirt and another in Casper the Ghost
pajamas; most weren't trained dancers and nearly all of them looked too young to remember Jackson's pre-lawsuit days. Thanks to a wine tasting the previous night, I felt a greater kinship with zombies than I ever had at 17. There was lots of giggling at the DVD instructions (“If you screw up, make a zombie noise, attack your neighbor”) and lots of cheering when we finally mastered the whole five-minute dance, the last step of which was “And ... scare!” whereby you curl your zombie claws at viewers. By that time, a crowd of zombie bystanders--who had massed for the evening's Zombie Walk downtown--were looming ominously in the doorway. I took a moment to locate the nearest emergency exit just in case.
There was a 20-minute lunch and makeup break, and then we split into two groups to perform the dance. And then, after all that practicing, it was over. DJ Freaky Outty spun Michael Jackson tunes afterward as zombies danced the jitterbug and left Karo syrup blood smears on their pint glasses. Scary thoughts flashed through my mind all the way home, like how 1984 was another lifetime ago, when being grounded was the worst thing that could happen; how white greasepaint really accentuates crows' feet; how far from 17 I was and how my neck was going to hurt like hell in the morning. I sure enough got my Halloween fright on at Thrill the World--no zombies required.
Holocene meets Thriller:
Local TV news coverage of the event: