Surrey zombie dance pays tribute to Thriller (photos and video)

They came. They saw. They thrilled.

High school dance instructor Ginger Bresnick came to strut her stuff in a cool new setting. Christopher Johnson came ’cause his mom saw prior events on YouTube, loved the idea, and suggested he join her. Zumba teacher Nadi Al-Janaby wanted to learn the "real" moves to the song she so often uses in her classes. Shawn Khan and friends were invited by co-workers.

Everyone had their own reasons for being there, and Sunday 42 zombies in all – and just as many spectators – made the trek to the Cloverdale for the inaugural Thrill the World Surrey.

Launched in Toronto in 2006, Thrill the World is an annual event where zombified movers and shakers worldwide simultaneously dance the "official" steps to Michael Jackson’s infamous Thriller. The goal? A new world record, of course.

In 2009, some 23,000 zombies at 400-plus locations (and 33 countries) across the globe did the deed, a total they’ve been trying to beat each year since. 2014’s edition didn’t quite do it, but world records really didn’t seem to matter as the undead gathered early afternoon at Cloverdale’s Youth Park.

Alia Khan, Shawn Khan, Anna-Maria Walter, and Nadi Al-Janaby joined 38 other dancers for the inaugural Thrill the World Surrey on Oct. 26. (Photo: Gord Goble)

Over there was a makeup tent, staffed by students from Vancouver’s New Image College of Fine Arts. Right next door were the Surrey Food Bank folks, happily accepting ten bucks from each participant.

But the focal point was clearly under the roof where skateboards normally ply their trade. Here, the dancers converged, shook out their nerves, and repeatedly rehearsed their moves for the better part of two hours.

And at 3PM, with a video camera running to capture the show – in a single take and with no panning, as per world record rules – and official crowd counters and witnesses doing their thing, 42 dancers lay on the ground as the Thriller creaking door intro shot from the speakers. Moments later, the song, and the routine, were in full flight.

A zombie dancer participant receives makeup for the inaugural Thrill the World Surrey. (Photo: GORD GOBLE)

One of those dancing was Nicole Whitney. Whitney, a veteran of the Vancouver event that at one time boasted a roster in the high hundreds but had recently tapered off, was a key founding member of this new Surrey iteration.

"My friends and I had gone to the Vancouver event for five years. But getting all zombied up and going all the way into Vancouver made for a really long day. So last year we started talking about doing something out this way."

Three months ago, the plan was put into action. Whitney, along with cohorts such as Natalie Binns (who brought in the Food Bank and ultimately managed the event) and Charlotte Barlow (who capably danced the lead MJ role Sunday when she wasn’t MCing), did the primary digging and soon enough the Surrey chapter of Thrill the World became, she says, the only officially sanctioned event in the lower mainland.

Dancers get their thrill on at the inaugural Thrill the World Surrey in Cloverdale on Oct. 26. (Photo: GORD GOBLE)

"It’s one of the most fun things I’ve ever participated in," says Whitney when asked to explain her passion for both Thriller and Thrill the World.

"First of all, it’s a very hard song to learn. But there’s just something really special about Michael’s energy. Thriller isn’t just spooky…there’s a child-like innocence there."

It was a sentiment echoed in the words of a gaggle of ghouls Sunday, where the King of Pop was very much alive.

Whitney, who runs the Shimmy for the Soul belly dance troupe when not dressing as a zombie, is big on a follow-up. "Next year is definitely happening. Though I think we might need a bigger site."

goble@shaw.ca

Photo Gallery of Thrill the World Surrey