Still recovering from an amazing night at the Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village. I was part of an army of 200 or so zombies performing the dance scene from "Thriller" organized by the nice folks at ThrillerNYC. It’s definitely the best time I’ve ever had at the parade, and one of best dance experiences in general.
For those of you who have never been, it’s definitely much more fun to be IN the parade than to watch the parade. (But that’s my general outlook on life.) Hit up YouTube and search for "Thriller Halloween Parade 2008" for video clips of us.
Here’s some random comments on what it was like to be in the parade as a Thriller zombie….
A "Parade" in Name Only
The Halloween Parade is not like your typical, Main Street USA-type parade with floats, big-name sponsors and marching bands. It’s more like barely controlled chaos masquerading as a parade. The organizers do a great job of imposing some kind of general order, and the NYC police force keep the proceedings pretty safe. But don’t be surprised if random people jump out of the sidelines and join your group, or a random Batgirl on skates zooms through your formation.
Very reminiscent of the Mermaid Parade at Coney Island during the summer, the Halloween Parade is grassroots New York at its best.
Getting Your Zombie On
Given the volunteer nature of the effort, there was a wide range of
intepretations of what a "Thriller" zombie should look like. There
were undead prom queens, an Egyptian
princess, several 80s fashion victims, a zombie nun and even a zombie
faerie? Basically there appeared to be lots of people in whatever
costume they had lying around, or in their work outfits, applying some
white makeup and blood and calling themselves
zombies. But there were also a ton of people who clearly had put a lot
of thought and effort into looking as gruesome and awesome as possible.
The Zombie Swingers
One of the organizers is a fellow
lindy hopper Severine, who was the original person who invited me to
participate in the group. Apparently a bunch other swing dancers got
the same urge because there was a large contingent of about 20 lindy
hoppers who were in the parade, including Will, Brendan, Lucky, Wexie,
Emily, Jenny, David, Kim, Jeremy "Newsboy", Michelle "Lady in Red",
Zeno, Severine, Tree, Mike, Ryan, Chelsea and Andrea, and a few others
I’ve forgotten in my adled state.
At one point I grabbed Andrea and we were lindy hopping to an MJ song, with other zombies cheering us on. So sweet.
An Audience of Thousands
The crowds during the Parade are just ridiculous, and often overwhelming in number. Thousands of people jam the sidewalks around Sixth Avenue trying to get a glimpse of the parade marchers. You hear a dozen different languages shouting at you as you pass by, from Russian to Portuguese to Mandarin. But they all scream in the universal language of TERROR when the zombie horde suddenly lurches toward them!
One of the best parts about being in the parade as a zombie is scaring the crowd, actually. It’s not hard, it’s just being unexpected and creepy and in-your-face. I’ve got the barely controlled zombie lurch down. You just sidle up to the barricades in a halting, stumbling manner to get people’s attention, then suddenly leap out at them and growl and they ALWAYS jump and scream and laugh hysterically. It’s totally awesome.
The choreography of "Thriller" is not really that difficult or long, but it has so many known movements and hits that it drives the crowds nuts when they see it. There are lots of awesome moves that feel great to do, particularly with 200 other zombies. But probably the best part is the beginning, as the familiar "Thriller" orchestral sweep fades in and the crowd starts to realize what is going to happen. Everyone starts to lurch forward into their lines. Then there is an electric sizzle sound and we all freeze like we were jolted by a bolt of lightning.
Without fail, the crowd goes completely apeshit at this moment. (You can hear it at the 45 second mark in this video.)
It’s the best feeling in the world. And you get to do it about a dozen times during the parade route.
Rocking Out to MJ
It probably would be best if we stayed in character as the undead during the entire parade route, but it’s totally unrealistic to expect 200 volunteers to do anything in sync for two hours together. In between performances, the "Thriller" car blasts out Michael Jackson hits like "Beat It" and "Bad" for everyone to rock out to.
Somewhere in the middle of the parade, another lindy hopper Ryan called me out and said "Let’s battle!" We made our way to the front of the group and did a fun hip-hop battle with some popping, breaking and uprocking that was a lot of fun and totally exhausting.
There was an after party at some bar that my friends didn’t make it do because of the crowd and worries about the long wait for drinks and food. So we peeled off into seperate groups to forage for our own sustenance and beverages. I feel a little bad about missing the official after party, but whatever.
Much later, a small group of us ended up at Swing 46 in Times Square to see my buddy George Gee and his Makebelieve Ballroom Orchestra play for a halloween jam there. I was dead tired (sorry) at that point, but still managed to get a few dances in. During one of the band breaks, the DJ put on "Thriller" so Lady in Red, Newsboy and I made our way to the front of the dance floor to do the "Thriller" routine one last time. It was hysterical.
Best New York Moment
Newsboy was perhaps a bit too in character all night, lurching around everywhere we wandered in Manhattan and scaring random people we passed on the sidewalk. I was sure he was going to get clocked at some point.
As a bunch of us were getting off the R train, Newsboy began lunging at people in the train who were waiting for it to depart the station. One young woman jumped back, scowled, and then flipped him the bird. It was classic New York attitude.
Such an amazing time, and such great memories. I’m totally doing it next year and already scheming on what costume I want to wear (undead Jedi, zombie ninja, Filipino prisoner, hmmm).
I’m going to walk with a bit more a lurch in my step and a smile on my face today.