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Thousands of local "zombies" join the record-breaking effort for dancing to Michael Jackson's Thriller

ST. PETERSBURG — Cissie Rodriguez is a Michael Jackson fanatic.

As a little girl, she dressed up as him for Halloween. Her biggest regret is she never got to see him in concert.

But on Saturday night, with her teenage son at her side, the 42-year-old put on a torn, stained fuchsia dress and got a chance to pay tribute to the King of Pop, a man she said she's loved all her life.

The pair were among nearly 200 people who danced to Jackson's famous Thriller at the Pier in downtown St. Petersburg. Dozens more did the dance in Tampa.

It was all park of "Thrill the World," an international event aimed at breaking the world record for largest simultaneous dance to Thriller. Events were planned in more than 300 cities worldwide.

"It was amazing feeling," Rodriguez said minutes after the 8:30 p.m. dance was done. "The biggest touching thing — that everyone around the world was doing it too."

This isn't the first time the Thrill the World group, which began in Canada with 62 dancers in 2006, has attempted to break the world record.

Just how many dancers does it take to break the Guinness World Record of dancing to Thriller, you ask? The record now is 13,597 dancers, set in Mexico on Aug. 29 on what would have been Jackson's 51st birthday.

Organizers were expecting a boost in interest and participation because of Jackson's June 25 death.

In Tampa, in a dance studio at the Northwest Family YMCA, the ghouls waited as the official timekeeper counted down from 10.

Instructor Shannon Thigpen organized the group of 33 — ages 6 to over 60 — to participate in the worldwide dance after members of her twice weekly Salsa and Soul classes urged her to join the movement.

Douglas Rutkowski, 46, of Westchase studied Internet videos of the dance an hour before coming out to join the record-breaking attempt with his 14-year-old daughter.

"I remembered when Thriller first came out while I was in college," Rutkowski said. "I just wanted to be part of something global like this and to do something with my daughter where we can dance because she thinks her dad can't dance."

After the performance ended Rachel Rutkowski, a Alonso Middle ninth-grader, gave her dad's dancing a B-.

She said she wasn't a huge Michael Jackson fan before his death, but since June he's all she wants to hear.

"The top-10-played songs on my iTunes are all Michael Jackson now," she said.

Twelve-year-old Kasey Daniels and 18-year-old Kayla Ivey were covered in fake gore in scars and outfitted in their tattered Sunday best. They did their most convincing flesh-eating zombie impressions as they roared through steps they'd been practicing for a month.

"We love Michael Jackson," said Ivey, a senior a Zephyrhills High.

In St. Petersburg, 198 people danced.

Hundreds more watched, counting down, cheering and even dancing themselves when the music started.

Many people in the crowd said they were there to support a relative or friend who was dancing.

But many others, like Pat and Manny Mesagno of Dunedin, went just to see the show.

"I love dance and I love singing," said 62-year-old Pat, who said she found out about the event online.

"I think it's a real neat thing for Michael Jackson. We lost him too soon."

It wasn't clear Saturday night whether the group had broken the record. They won't know until all the numbers are tallied.

To many of the dancers, it won't matter.

"It was more than that," Rodriguez said. "It was the experience, the atmosphere, the tribute."

Thousands of local "zombies" join the record-breaking effort for dancing to Michael Jackson's Thriller 10/25/09 [Last modified: Sunday, October 25, 2009 12:10am]
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