Zombies coming downtown for RFL’s ‘Thriller’ group dance

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Riverhead Free Library director Joy Rankin.
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Riverhead Free Library director Joy Rankin.

Come August, downtown Riverhead will hear night creatures call and see the dead start to walk.

More specifically, hundreds of people will dress like zombies and start dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

At least, that’s the plan for Riverhead Free Library director Joy Rankin, who is calling the event “The Thrill of It All.”

Ms. Rankin is working with East End Arts and local dance studios to put the dance together as part of EEA’s kickoff of its “JumpsArt” program on Aug. 8.

“When I first came to Riverhead, I thought, ‘What is something I’d like to see every year? Something that pulls the entire community together?’ ” said Ms. Rankin, who became library director last August.

It was during a meeting with Pat Snyder, executive director of East End Arts, when she came up with the idea of having people get together to emulate the 1983 “Thriller” video, where ghosts and zombies famously danced with mega-pop star Michael Jackson.

“Any time you can bring the community together through the arts, I’m totally for it,” said Ms. Snyder, adding that the event is still a work in progress. “That’s what we’re all about.”

For Ms. Rankin, a community-wide dance event is right up her alley.

“I have a dance [and choreography] background,” she said. “I graduated from a performing arts high school in Syosset. Everybody knows the ‘Thriller’ video. Whether it’s people who saw it when they were young or people today who are fans of zombie-type movies and television shows such as ‘The Walking Dead,’ everybody has some story about how they were first exposed to ‘Thriller.’”

“Somebody might say they can’t dance, but everybody can walk like a zombie,” she said.

A quick Google search turns up multiple links of groups dancing to “Thriller” and the Guinness Book of World Records even has a world record for largest “Thriller” dance — 13,597 people participated in a Mexico City event Aug. 30, 2009.

There’s also an event called “Thrill the World,” where people from all over the world re-enact the dance at the same time.

Can Riverhead top that?

“About 200 people would be great,” Ms. Rankin said.

In addition to the library and East End Arts, three local dance schools — Redancers, Peconic Ballet Theatre and Studio East in Westhampton — will also assist with choreography and dance instruction, she said.

While the “Thriller” dance is only being planned as a one-time event, Ms. Rankin hopes to work on a different community project each year. In 2015, she hopes to roll out a local version of “The Amazing Race,” based on the award-winning reality show where contestants rush around the world to participate in games and complete tasks.

Anyone who wants to get involved with “The Thrill of It All” should contact the library at 727-3228, ext. 131, Ms. Rankin said.