Zombies growl and stomp as Michael Jackson’s Thriller booms over and over again from the sound system. Mother zombies carrying baby zombies dance together.
A skater-boy zombie with a stop sign rammed into his chest gnashes his teeth, and mimics Michael Jackson’s best moves.
Inside the Roundhouse Community centre, a line of dancers wait to sign-in and get splattered with sticky, fake blood. After that, they glue maggots made from rice onto their oozing wounds.
Whiffs of hairspray linger in the rehearsal studio after an 80s punk zombie, empties an aerosol can onto her teased- up hair.
Outside, a bride laughs when a corpse bride and groom shuffle into her photo shoot. The photographer’s camera clicks rapidly once the newly formed wedding party strike a pose.
At Thrill the World 2009, 22,923 people gathered to perform Michael Jackson’s Thriller. That’s five times the number who joined in last year.
United in dance
This year’s event became a tribute to the dead singer. Michael Jackson died this summer on June 25.
“It’s great to see people that have never danced before realizing they can actually dance,” said Graham Lea, the Vancouver event organizer. “The charity aspect of it is about half the equation. The other half is about unifying people through dance around the world.”
The global event is held annually on Oct. 25. It unites the world in one giant Thriller dance. Around the world, 32 countries joined in and globally raised $85,000 USD for 80 different charities.
Lea brought the event to Vancouver in 2008. He was involved in a dance group called Ceroc, which teaches salsa and swing to beginners. He decided he wanted to branch out to include Jackson-style dancing.
He found dance tutorials online and then stumbled upon the Thrill the World website. He noticed there was no event in Vancouver, “and it just kind of snowballed from there.”
Last year, Lea started teaching Thriller moves and 68 dancers performed with him at Kits Beach. This year, 232 dancers showed up at the Roundhouse.
“The great thing about Thrill the World is it’s designed for beginners to learn,” said Lea. He loves to see shy volunteers transform into dancers with attitude. Donating the proceeds to charity is just an added bonus.
“I think it must be extremely hard to do things in life if you are continually hungry,” said Lea about collecting donations for the 9,000 individuals who use food banks in Vancouver every week.
Money for Vancouver Food Bank
Vancouver raised $3000 this year. Participants were asked to make minimum donations of $10: a small amount in comparison to the amount spent on their zombie costumes.
“A lot of people don’t give just out of memory or the generousness of their hearts. They mean to, but they tend to forget,” said Margot Fraser. She participated to support the food bank and dance with the world.
“If there are special events that bring awareness to people, especially through the media, and it’s something people can participate in, then I think it’s great for charities.”
In the back corner of the dance studio, behind the crowds, the Greater Vancouver Food Bank had a booth set up to take donations. The food boxes were empty, except for a few peach-cups and couple cans of Campbell’s soup.
“We are entirely dependent on donations,” said Fareedah Rasoul Kim, the communications director of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.
“The bulk of the money is from the minimum donation from the participants. The minimum was $10, but it’s really whatever people want to donate.”
After the eight-minute routine, a few zombies paced through crowds of spectators with collection tins.
A young man, wearing a leather jacket and clean, white shoes, jumped when a sunken-faced zombie crept up behind him. He laughed before stuffing a twenty into the tin.
“Every little bit helps,” said Rasoul Kim. “Events like this go a long way.”
As for Lea, he is already planning Thrill the World Vancouver 2010.