I confess: I am totally thrilled by the idea of Thrill the World. It’s an annual event where groups of people around the world simultaneously perform the dance from Michael Jackson’s Thriller: the most influential music video ever, made by the King of Pop in his heyday, with zombies busting out of their graves to show that the dead sure can dance. Thrill the World aims to break the record for largest simultaneous performance of Thriller and raise money for charity. My aim is more selfish: learn the killer moves, dress up like the living dead and pretend I’m a backing dancer.
The system was devised by Canadian Ines Markeljevic, an enterprising dance teacher whose first dance steps were taken at the age of three while watching Thriller on tv. Having set up a Thrill Toronto event in 2006, she went global in 2007, launching a Thrill the World website through which regional organisers could register; she also posted a series of instructional videos on YouTube. These use spoken words as movement cues, so rather than remembering counts you learn your lines – a method that Merkeljevic finds effective for a wide range of ages and abilities. The ‘dance script’, with moves written out alongside the lyrics, can be downloaded free. You could learn the whole thing from home, but it’s easier to go to a registered teacher, and use the videos and script as backup.
The teacher is called The Boogie Woman. This, she assures me, is her real name.
In the week before ‘Thrill Time’, I get up to speed with a couple of lessons at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in central London. A smattering of people from all walks includes a community worker who is teaching the routine to her youth group, a woman from Cambridge who has come to London specially, a 40-something fanboy (that would be me) and an Australian who has already Thrilled the World from down under, twice. The teacher, in orange jumpsuit and white boots, is called The Boogie Woman. This, she assures me, is her real name. What better teacher than someone whose middle name is Boogie?
In this dance, she explains, it’s good to look awkward. She demonstrates: graceful ballet hands (bad), sassy jazz hands (bad), hideously clawed zombie hands (excellent!). Having summarily dispatched our inhibitions, she fast-tracks us through the routine in an hour. We rise up from the floor and lurch forward into zombie walks. Then it’s briskly on to the booty-bounce and the wuzz-ups and before we know it we’ve made it through the shake-it-and-a-uppas and the rock-on-rock-ons to the final SCARE. ‘Raaawrghsome!’ says The Boogie Woman.
Saturday 29 October. There are two Thrill Times, 12 hours apart (with 227 international registered events, this avoids anyone having to Thrill the World at antisocial hours). I’ve bought a shirt, trousers and tie from the local charity shop which I rough up good and proper. I was going for the corporate ‘worked to death’ look, but when I arrive the consensus is ‘zombie schoolboy’. I’m in good company: the Trocadero in Piccadilly is crawling with zombie kids. The Australian has creepy yellow eyes, and the Cambridge woman looks like death warmed up. It feels so nice to belong.
Isn’t that some kind of crazy techno-celebrity voodoo dance weirdness?
And the actual Thrill? Over in a flash. Six minutes past Thrill Time, we’ve stomped, we’ve wuzzed-up, we’ve rocked on, and we’re done. Nerves wired and heart still pumping, I stumble into the daylight, and the first thing I see is a Halloween zombie pub crawl across the street. I get that fleeting sense of kinship again – these are my people! – and momentarily ponder the idea of a ‘dance tribe’. What does it say about modern society when people around the world rise up as one, moved by a cult figure whose world wide web of influence reaches from beyond the grave and into our very bodies? Isn’t that some kind of crazy techno-celebrity voodoo dance weirdness? But my flesh is still too animated and my brain too mushed to think too much. Non-zombies call this condition ‘having fun’.