Off The Press

October 28, 2008

By David Hayes

MJ’s classic tune still has the power to thrill

David Hayes Press Reporter

David Hayes Press Reporter

OK. Time for some brutal honesty. 

Despite the man (some would argue freak) he has become, Michael Jackson was one hell of a musician back in the day. His groundbreaking album, “Thriller,” broke all sales records at the time, moving more than a million copies a week after its release Nov. 30, 1982. Timed perfectly for the burgeoning cable network MTV, the album is also fondly remembered for utilizing to perfection the music video.Perhaps none did better to set the standard than the album’s centerpiece, “Thriller.” This 14-minute short movie, directed by John Landis, proved the new medium could capture a teen’s attention for more than four-minute spans.

Its lasting impression has stayed with many from the MTV generation, including Susan James. The 1980 graduate of Issaquah High School, now living in Redmond, unabashedly admits she’s a hardcore Michael Jackson fan. 

“I still have the record on vinyl, CD and on my iPod,” she said. “Whatever the next generation of music is going to be, I’ll have it on that, too. The whole album is iconic.”

So enamored with the “Thriller” video, James recalled telling a friend a couple of years back that they should learn the dance moves. Little did she know where that innocent comment would lead.

Researching the Internet for a video to purchase to teach the iconic moves performed by a cast of zombies, James stumbled across a group of like-minded individuals. Some had already formed to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the album’s release in 2007 by recreating the dance moves en mass. Their efforts were documented on

So, befitting any good project manager, James organized local MJ fans into a group, The Seattle Thrillers, with the goal of joining the worldwide effort to break the world record, this time coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the release of the music video.

Putting the word out through, Facebook and craigslist, James was surprised to get responses from about 100 interested people. They had their first rehearsal in August.

“We had about 35 people at that rehearsal actually show up, and they were all ages, from 25 to 55,” James said. “They were a cool cross section of people I never would have met.”

One was Amy Burgess, from West Seattle, providing space in her small dance studio. But when they sought a larger venue to practice, James said they found the West Seattle Thrillers already practicing on their own. 

The two groups combined, utilizing a church basement as their new studio. By the last few sessions, they had 70 regulars.

Then, with cameras rolling, live feeds by telephone to 93 registered events around the world, at 11 a.m. Oct. 26 local time in Seattle, they danced. James said the word had gotten out and 50 dancers from last year’s event joined in, bringing their total number to 195. 

“Seattle was No. 3 worldwide in total numbers,” she said. “We more than doubled last year’s world record, with 3,960 dancers this year.”

With just six major moves, the dance lasts about six minutes. And the participants didn’t just show up. They got into the groove, dressing as their favorite zombie, wearing professionally applied prosthetic makeup and costumes. James said there was one prom couple that looked amazing. And for her costume?

“My friend and I are also big Trekkies,” James admitted. “So, we dressed up as Trekkie zombies. Sorta zombies from the future.”

The event took place at Occidental Park in the Pioneer Square district. James said the goal was to make it look choreographed, neat and orderly.

“But the cool thing is sometimes when you forget a step, you just have to remember, you’re a zombie ‘stumbling’ around. So, it’s easy to catch up,” James said.

After months of rehearsing, when they were finished, James said it was like finishing an aerobic workout. She even called the rehearsals her “thrillaerobics.”

“When the dance was done, I actually starting crying,” she said. “The whole event was so moving.”

She’s already shooting for 300 dancers next year and looking for rehearsal venues here on the Eastside. 

So, if you still have a copy of “Thriller” collecting dust in the back of the closet, wipe it off, find a still functioning turntable and give it a spin for inspiration. Then, go to They’re recruiting zombies for the next attempt. You never know how many other closet MJ fans are still out there.

“A whole community was built out of this. Amy and I are best buddies now,” James said.

Reach Reporter David Hayes at 392-6434, ext. 237, or

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