by Heather Chapman

Finally, something to do with all those awful bridesmaid dresses and old suits in your closet: cover them in fake blood and celebrate with the rest of Lexington’s undead at the annual Thriller Parade.
Lexington’s signature Halloween event, now in its 13th year, is expecting a turnout of more than 1,500 zombies on October 26th and a few thousand more spectators on top of that. What’s the big deal? Well, it’s silly, really.

It’s a re-enactment of the 1983 music video in which Michael Jackson and an undead dance crew scare the daylights out of his girlfriend Ola.

But Melissa McCartt Smyth, who founded the parade along with Teresa Tomb, said that silly can be a good thing.

“I love that we open it to anyone who wants to join,” said Smyth. “No age limit, no skill requirements, no experience. I’ve seen so many people who think they aren’t creative or talented discover that they are, just from this silly little opportunity.”

Of course, it was a lot, er, littler in 2001 when it began. Tomb, who owns Mecca Live Studio & Gallery, said that about 50 zombies showed up to dance in that first parade. Now it’s so large that four different Michael Jackson and Ola re-enactors are needed to act out the first part of the video (with accompanying zombies) at four different stations along Main St.

The festivities of the evening—sponsored by Mecca and the city’s Parks & Recreation—now include the Thriller Parade as well as a Thriller Showcase and Lexington Halloween Parade beforehand. Though the Thriller Parade might be scary for younger children, the Showcase and the Halloween Parade are fairly kid-friendly. They’re a bit earlier in the evening, and the Showcase even features a kids-only performance of Thriller. The Halloween Parade does have some frightening costumed figures, but they’re giving out buckets of trick-or-treat candy.
University of Kentucky student Jane Garton said that her 7-year-old daughter loves attending the whole thing.

“She was scared as a toddler,” said Garton. “But she now knows how to distinguish fact from fantasy. She thinks it is silly and fun.”

Still, Garton recommends caution. “We have left in the past if she felt uncomfortable. Telling a 2-year-old that monsters aren’t real isn’t as easy as telling a 6-year-old that they don’t exist. If the small child is terrified it’s not fair to her to stay and disregard her feelings.”

Children can even dance in the actual parade if they’re up to it. Participation is a one-time fee of $10 for ages 13 and up, but kids can dance for free. The dance routine itself isn’t too hard to learn, thanks to the tutelage of Smyth. At each rehearsal, she breaks down the entire Thriller dance and teaches it move-by-move. You only have to go to two rehearsals in order to participate, but you can go to as many as you need to in order to become comfortable with the dance. Practice is a big part of the fun, though, according to Tomb.

“It’s a completely joyful experience,” she said. “You have people of all ages from all over Lexington and many from out of town who come to learn the dance. By the end of each rehearsal everybody is sweating and laughing and have had the best time together.”

The sense of community is infectious on the night of the parade—not just among the dancers, but among the spectators.

“It adds tremendous community spirit and collaboration,” said Smyth. “It inserts PLAY into our oh-so-serious lives. It keeps public space involved in citizen activities. And, of course it brings people out of their normal social circles and into the bigger circle of Lexington.”
Not a bad set of accomplishments for a little zombie dancing.