Thriller 13th in ‘14: Zombies to take over downtown
By Heather Chapman
Thirteen may be an unlucky number, but not for the organizers of Lexington’s annual Thriller Parade: 2014 marks thirteen years of local citizenry lurching down Main Street to re-enact the 1983 music video in which Michael Jackson and a retinue of the dusty undead terrify his girlfriend Ola with their fierce dance moves.
Organizers are expecting more than 1,500 zombies to participate this year, along with many thousand more spectators. Melissa McCartt Smyth and Teresa Tomb of Mecca Live Studio & Gallery, who run the parade along with Parks and Recreation, said they never expected it to grow in popularity the way it has.
“Oh, we had no idea!” said Tomb, owner of Mecca. But grow it did. Because there are so many participants, they now have to select four different Michael Jackson and Ola couples, staged with zombie dancers at four different areas on Main St. That’s a far cry from the 50 or so zombies who participated in the first parade in 2001.
“Teresa and I thought it would be a fun gag,” said Smyth. “Turned out to be pretty popular.” Indeed, it’s become one of Lexington’s signature events. Locals come back year after year to display their zombie finery and see the sights—like perennial favorite Zombie Elvis. Besides the general fun of the thing, keeping an eye out for pop culture references can be one of the most entertaining parts of the whole evening. Among the undead spotted at last year’s parade were a zombie Shaun of the Dead (guess he lost that time?), zombie Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, (many) zombie Harry Potters, zombie versions of all four Avatar: The Last Airbender main characters, and a zombie Black Swan ballerina staggering down Main St. en pointe.
There’s also a Thriller Showcase and a Halloween parade beforehand, which are well-worth attending. The Thriller Showcase features music from local bands and a kids’-only performance of Thriller to get the crowd warmed up. The Halloween parade will have most of the usual suspects from Lexington parades, along with scads of free trick-or-treat candy for the kids.
Though the Thriller parade may be frightening to smaller children, elementary school age children generally seem to enjoy the festivities.
Tony Florence, owner of Collectibles, Etc. and 723 Vapor, said his young daughter is also a big Thriller fan. “My 5-year-old loves Michael Jackson’s music. She also enjoys all the zombie costumes and make up. She started going at the age of 3 and has really loved each performance.”
Florence said that it’s not just his daughter that keeps him coming back though. “Personally, I’m a big fan of the sense of community that this event promotes. I see a lot of folk from a wide variety of backgrounds coming together to just have a good time,” he said. “It generates commerce and civic interest. I put it on par with Thursday Night Live and the Night Market events. You really can’t have too many fun things to do in our city.”
Tomb agreed that the sense of community, both among participants and spectators, is a big part of why Thriller works so well.
“You have people of all ages from all over Lexington and many from out of town who come to learn the dance. By the end of each rehearsal everybody is sweating and laughing and have had the best time together,” she said. “Then to see that all come together the night of the event when everybody is in full costume and you know they have spent a lot of time and energy really coming up with their zombie persona, it’s just amazing.”
Getting involved with Thriller is easy, and the cost is only a one-time donation of $10 for ages 13 and up; kids age 12 and under can get in free. Rehearsals are held four days a week at either Buster’s Billiard and Backroom or the Carver Community Center, but you only have to attend two rehearsals to dance in the parade. At each practice, Smyth breaks down the entire Thriller dance and teaches it move by move. So if you’re starting late, not to worry.
But even if you decide not to dance in the parade, come and join in the fun. Said Tomb: “It’s truly a community effort and we’re all having a great time!”
The Thriller Parade is Sunday, October 26, 6:30-7:30 p.m.: Thriller Showcase, Courthouse Plaza 8 p.m. Lexington Halloween Parade, Main St. 8:30 p.m.: Thriller Parade, Main St. Raindate is October 27th.
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