Zombie army prepares to boogie down during Michael Jackson tribute

Zombies in training: Thrill the World 2009 participants rehearse dance moves from Thriller at Bay Medical Center Studio in St. Petersburg.

Luis Santana/tbt*

Zombies in training: Thrill the World 2009 participants rehearse dance moves from Thriller at Bay Medical Center Studio in St. Petersburg.

For Michael Jackson fans, trying to break the world record for the largest simultaneous dance means mastering the zombie march, booty bounce and stomp.

It's about learning moves called the hip 'n' roar, shuffle ha slide and wuz up, all while looking like a crusty zombie just risen from the dead.

On Oct. 24, thousands worldwide, and hundreds locally, will dance to Jackson's Thriller for the Thrill the World party. Four hundred have signed up for the Thrill St. Pete group, which performs at 8:30 p.m. at the Pier. Due to the huge response, registration has closed.

Many of the mummies in training are taking lessons with Gemma Hughes, a fitness trainer and volunteer dance coordinator for the event. She coaches them through the steps, some of them fairly complicated.

"Who didn't just mess up? It's tricky, I told you,'' she tells a recent class. "Just keep going.''

The free classes are open to anyone, regardless of dance ability. Attend one, none or all of them. Participants can learn the dance at home on YouTube.

Don't expect to master the six-minute dance in a day, Hughes said. After all, it was choreographed for professionals who practiced extensively before the video shoot.

Still, most dancers got the gist halfway through the hourlong class. Everyone found it surprisingly pretty easy to rise from the grave.

Thrill the World got its start in 2006 in Canada and last year drew 4,179 zombies from 10 countries. Since Jackson's death in June, interest has exploded, and more than 250,000 dancers are expected to take part this year. Florida has 13 sites.

Terry Rimer, assistant coordinator in St. Petersburg, said she and her husband, Todd Germann, got involved for the zombie aspect of it but attribute Jackson's death for drawing the masses.

"We originally thought that if we got 50 dancers, we'd be happy,'' she said. "It's blown up to be a lot bigger than we expected.''

Nyssa Hanger of Tampa described taking part in a worldwide tribute to Jackson as an emotional, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

"I would call him my first love,'' said Hanger, 25, a University of South Florida student who says Jackson influenced her to be a performer.

She started practicing the Thriller dance at home but wanted some professional instruction surrounded by other Jackson devotees.

"I couldn't get through the first two videos without crying,'' she said.

What a thrill

Registration to dance in St. Petersburg's Thrill the World event is closed, but people can be part of the audience or volunteer. A dance party and pub crawl will follow the dance at 8:30 p.m. at the Pier. Go to thrillstpete.com. For a schedule of practices, go to fitnessbygemma.com.

Zombie army prepares to boogie down during Michael Jackson tribute 10/08/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 8, 2009 5:31am]

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