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Dancers prepare to "Thrill the World'' first time since Michael Jackson's death

TAMPA — He may not have his red leather jacket anymore, but this 14-year-old can stomp, snarl and shake his hips just like any other zombie in a Vincent Price-narrated music video.

Just call him Alonzo Jackson.

No, seriously, that's his name.

Though he's not related to Michael Jackson, the Orange Grove Magnet Middle School student and his mother are paying tribute to the late pop icon by teaching Hillsborough fans the steps to the famous Thriller video.

Their efforts are part of a worldwide party called "Thrill the World," in which thousands, including hundreds locally, will dance simultaneously to the song at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Earlier this month, 400 had signed up to participate in the event at the Pier in St. Petersburg. In Hillsborough, one dance site will be the North Tampa Branch Library, 8916 N Boulevard, where the Jacksons' group will perform. Another group, organized by Shannon Thigpen, of Salsa and Soul Fitness, will perform at the Northwest Hillsborough Family YMCA, 8950 W Waters Ave.

Thrill the World got its start in 2006 in Canada. Last year, 4,179 people from 10 countries reenacted the video's dance moves. The event has attracted even more interest since Michael Jackson's death in June. Anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 dancers of all ages are expected to participate this year. Florida has nearly 20 sites.

But first, people must learn the steps.

Natalie Jackson, Alonzo's mother and the founder of Kuumba African Dancers and Drummers, led the training session at the College Hill Library last week. She has trained bay area dancers for more than two decades, but didn't take the Thriller tutorial too seriously.

After a quick warmup, she followed a YouTube video created by the founders of Thrill the World. Rather than counting steps, the dance moves are broken down by words, such as "hip n' roar," where dancers sway hips from side-to-side before curving their hands into claws and walking to the right.

Thriller wannabes nervously giggled as Jackson taught them to "booty bounce."

"Put your personality into it!" she shouted as they thrust their hips.

Jackson emphasized that Thrill the World is a lighthearted event, not a nerve-racking audition or major production. "If you make a mistake, just keep going and have fun with it," she said.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, mother and son will teach one more class at the North Tampa Branch Library, before joining people around the world to perform Jackson's classic moves in unison.

Participants are encouraged to dress the part, right down to the sallow face paint and tattered clothes.

"I might dress up like Michael," said Alonzo, who also plans to chemically treat his hair and add gel to mimic the King of Pop's loose, Thriller-era coif. "I'd love to do the full ghoul makeup, but I think I might just get a mask and be done with it."

The rest of his costume will likely involve a couple of items borrowed from his father's closet. Alonzo used to have a Thriller jacket and tight, black pants, he said, but his mom gave them away when he outgrew them.

"I have some church shoes and white socks that could work, but I'll have to see if I can use my dad's funeral hat," he said.

Each Thrill the World location must agree to play the same version of Thriller — the one that's 5 minutes and 58 seconds long, give or take a second. About 20 people attended last Saturday's rehearsal, but many more still could register, said Darlene Harris, adult programming coordinator for College Hill Library.

"Dance and music brings people together — it doesn't matter who you are or how old you are," Jackson said. "This event connects people throughout the world."

Carol Ransom, 52, of Tampa, has organized a ladies' night out of sorts around the event.

"There's no way I'm going to remember it all, but I'm going to go home and practice," Ransom said last week. "My friends and I are always working or doing things for the family and running around, so I think it'd be good to get us all together and do something that's strictly fun."

The Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative initially wanted to sponsor the event for teens, but Harris decided to make it a family event.

As the first Thrill the World since his death, the dance holds a special meaning for some.

"We want celebrities — their essence, their charisma — to be immortal," said Ransom. "One of the most exciting things about this event is that it brings that essence back and unites people. Michael Jackson was always about the world, always about bringing people together."

The event also introduces the millennial generation to Jackson's earlier work. Before the rehearsal, Jamaria Graham, 10, and her younger sister, Jania, 8, had never heard of Thriller.

"I wanted to learn how to dance like Michael Jackson," said Jania. "It wasn't very hard. It was fun."

>> If you go

'Thrill the World'

The event is Saturday at the North Tampa Branch Library, 8916 N Boulevard. Registration is at 6:30 p.m., with a dance lesson from 7 to 8. The official dance is at 8:30. (To learn the Thriller dance online, go to The event is free to the public.

Dancers prepare to "Thrill the World'' first time since Michael Jackson's death 10/22/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 22, 2009 4:30am]
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