At 7 p.m. Saturday night, 8-year-old Marcus Garber slowly rose from the dead inside Harrisonburg’s Valley Mall.
Playing the role of a “zombie” Michael Jackson, Marcus gave an impressive performance of Jackson’s “Thriller” dance in front of the Belk department store, stepping in time with his fellow zombies in Harrisonburg and across the globe.
“I heard the whole world would be doing it, so I thought I’d join in,” Marcus said before he made his death masquerade debut.
Dancers young and old participated in “Thrill The World” – an annual one-day event where people worldwide attempt to break the record for the largest simultaneous dance of “Thriller.” According to the event’s website, the event was created in 2006 by Canadian dance instructor Ines Markeljevic as a way to “inspire the world to dance.”
Every October, registered participants in different countries dress in zombie-like costumes – ragged, ripped pieces of clothing and ghastly makeup – and follow Jackson’s famous moves at the same day and time.
In addition to learning the dance, participants are asked to raise money for a charity of their choice.
Last year, Record Holders Republic, an official world record registry, gave “Thrill the World” a new record for having 22,923 people from 32 countries dance simultaneously to “Thriller.”
The dancers began together after a countdown given by an Alice 93.7 DJ. The new Harrisonburg station advertised the event.
Those who wish to join the “Thrill The World” movement could learn the dance by watching either Markeljevic’s DVD or online videos, both of which include a written script that associates words with dance steps.
“She made things simple by connecting dance moves with word prompts,” said Karen Thomas, the event manager for Harrisonburg’s performance.
Thomas, who teaches several dance classes at her downtown studio, Dancing With Karen, taught “Thriller” lessons once a month throughout the year beginning in January. After learning about “Thrill The World” from a couple she was teaching in August 2009, Thomas thought it would be fun to participate.
Although Thomas scheduled a “Thriller” performance last October inside the Dayton Learning Center, it wasn’t an actual “Thrill The World” event.
“We didn’t try to organize it into an event, it was more about just learning the dance,” Thomas said.
This year, however, Thomas wanted to accomplish a record-breaking feat and raise money for two charities, Cat’s Cradle and St. Mary’s Pine Lutheran Church’s Community Compassion Fund, which donates money to those with emergency needs.
Margo Cowolek, a 60-year-old avid dancer who’s been taking classes at Thomas’ studio for 15 years, personally raised close to $180 total for both charities.
Cowolek, who describes herself as a big fan of Jackson, decided to participate in the “Thrill The World” event as way to encourage Thomas’ dance instruction and to introduce herself to other dancers.
“I’m a big supporter of Karen and everything that she does at the studio,” Cowolek said. “I also wanted to meet some new people and I’ve made great friends.”
Cowolek and her group of 18 zombies hit almost every move perfectly, looking like “Thriller” pros as they staggered and roared in unison before a crowd of children, teenagers and older adults.
Dancing toward the back, in a row near Cowolek, were JMU seniors, Rachel Kozlowski and Michelle Hunt.
Kozlowski, a mathematics major, attended the dress rehearsal the night before where she learned the entire dance from scratch.
“It was overwhelming at first, but it became easier because the steps are very repetitive,” Kozlowski said.
The two friends have been trying to learn the “Thriller” dance since freshman year, but were never able to attend a formal lesson until Saturday night. Hunt, an interdisciplinary liberal studies major, thought learning the dance with strangers made performing easier.
“You can have fun with people you don’t know and it doesn’t feel weird,” Hunt said. “We all feel kind of silly dressing up, so it takes the pressure away.”
As the small group performed, two volunteers filmed the event with small video cameras. One of the two videos will be sent to Markeljevic, who will then submit the video as proof to the Record Holders Republic.
Currently, Markeljevic cannot submit videos of the performances to Guinness World Records, because there isn’t a category for the largest simultaneous dance of “Thriller.”