Iconic Thriller Re-awakens “The Dancing” Dead

By Guest Blogger, Laura Bond Williams, Butler Center for Dance & Fitness member

In 2008, and Ballet Austin’s Butler Center for Dance & Fitness had re-awakened me to the possibilities of becoming a dancer—at age 38. That fall I took a thrilling step forward as a dancer and performer when I joined 800+ other local dancers to participate in “Thrill the World” at the Long Center, joining tens of thousands of movers worldwide to set a Guinness World Record for simultaneously dancing Thriller. That experience—and several more over the last seven years—are why I appreciate and celebrate Thriller as a way for people to connect with their bodies, channel their creativity and claim dance for themselves.

thrill-the-world-tibbygirl

Image from 2008’s Thrill the World at the Long Center. Photo Credit tibbygirl via Flickr CC.

That day, lying flat and “playing dead” on the warm concrete plaza of our city’s performing arts center, we waited for the opening notes and footsteps that mark the beginning of Michael Jackson’s legendary song. Together—women and men of all ages and races—we slowly rose to life, our bodies play-fighting against gravity. Acting our roles as stumbling, bumbling living dead, rising from our graves and ready to…dance. Thriller’s famous fanfare brings us to our feet, and we stare straight ahead, enlivened by the music. The beat drops, and we walk, slowly. Right. Pause. Left. Pause. Right. Pause. Left. Pause.

One of my favorite Broadway dance teachers often quips “if you can walk, you can dance.” (Please note: walking is not even a prerequisite for dancing, as beautiful dance troupes such as Austin’s Body Shift dancers demonstrate.) As we stumbled right-left-right-left across the Long Center plaza, I realized this truth: when we are moved by music, we are dancing.

If you were alive and young in 1984, then Thriller connects your present body to your past. Perhaps you watched Friday night music videos while sitting next to your VCR, waiting for the Thriller video to air so you could tape it and watch it over and over. Thirty-one years later, Thriller still stirs the same reactions.

But you don’t have to be middle-aged to be excited by Thriller. This year, I taught Thriller to a group of young dancers, and we performed it at as a flash mob at an Alamo Drafthouse movie theatre. I gave them only two pieces of advice on costumes: Find some mud and some blood, and if your costume is too clean or too cute, it’s not a zombie.

People of all ages dressing as zombies for Thriller. Photo Credit

People of all ages at Ballet Austin dressed as zombies for Thriller. Photo Credit Laura Bond Williams

These 9–13-year-olds—and many of their parents—channeled ghastly princess and cheerleader zombies and night-of-the-living-dead zombies in white t-shirts, flannel and jeans, drizzled in dirt, leaves, mud and fake blood.

For adults, learning and performing Thriller is a way for us to claim our identity as dancers. For most of us “flash mobbers,” our identity as dancer may fall behind our roles as spouses, parents, and/or professionals. But the identity is no less dear. Last month I met a successful nonprofit executive whose career is a model and inspiration for many. Our conversation spanned many personal and professional subjects, and when we touched on the topic of dance, we went to a whole new shared space and she shared with me that she was starting Ballet Austin’s Thriller workshop. Her enthusiasm and excitement for tackling this iconic dance was palpable.

Photo Credit Laura Bond Williams

Photo Credit Laura Bond Williams

In less than six minutes—from a creaky door to an evil cackle—Thriller brings us back to life, living in our bodies, channeling our creativity and declaring our love of dance. As Vincent Price reminds us in rap: “For whosoever shall be found without the soul for getting down, may stand and face the hounds of hell and rot inside a corpse’s shell.”

Ballet Austin offers Thriller workshops every year! And with Halloween around the corner… Go ahead dancers. Thrill the world.

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Ballet Austin

About Ballet Austin

Ballet Austin is a professional dance company which also offers professional classical ballet training and instruction through the Ballet Austin Academy, which is one of the largest in the U.S. We're committed to providing the highest quality dance instruction to students, and currently the Academy has more than 800 students. Ballet Austin's Butler Center for Dance & Fitness offers classes for all ages and skill levels. And our state-of-the-art Pilates Center is open 7 days a week and gives clients personalized training with one of the top voted instructors in Austin. Dance and fitness workshops are also available, as well as adult workshops and summer kids camps.

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