Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' brings downtown Lexington to life

Zombies ignore cold to dance in street

bestep@herald-leader.comOctober 28, 2012 

For a place crawling with the undead, downtown Lexington was pretty lively Sunday evening.

Thousands of people lined Main Street in the chilly wind and peppering rain to watch the 11th annual re-enactment of singer Michael Jackson's Thriller, the groundbreaking 1983 music video in which zombies climb from the grave to dance in the street with the pop star.

The crowd cheered when Albert Ignacio and Caroline Powell, playing Jackson and his girlfriend, emerged from the lobby of The Kentucky Theatre to begin the parade a little after 8 p.m.

The production has become one of downtown's signature events.

This year, 1,200 zombies registered to dance in the street, up from 800 last year and about 50 the first year, said Teresa Tomb, owner and director of Mecca Live Studio & Gallery, which puts on the event with Lexington Parks and Recreation.

"Every year, more people want to do it," Tomb said. "Every year, they make more zombies. We just can't kill it."

The event has gotten so popular that dancers started from four spots along Main Street with four Jackson impersonators.

There were several events before the main performance, including more than a dozen children doing the Thriller routine on a stage at CentrePointe.

Jaylen Washington, 10, wowed the crowd with his spot-on imitation of Jackson. Jaylen's sister Amaya Young, 7, played the role of Jackson's girlfriend from the video.

Jaylen's mother, Shaleta Washington, said he has been imitating Jackson for years.

"It's like I'm addicted to him," Jaylen said.

Among the zombies who danced in the main reproduction were Jenny Wells, Allison Perry and Allison Elliott, who work in public relations at the University of Kentucky.

Wells, 28, calls herself a Jackson "superfan," complete with a shrine of sorts to him in her basement.

That's what brought her to the parade the first time, in 2006.

"It's fun. I'd do it even if I wasn't an obsessed Michael Jackson fan," Wells said.

Perry, 30, said she's a "mild" Jackson fan. She grew up cheerleading and dancing, so the chance to dance down Main Street was just too good to pass up.

"It's one of the coolest things that Lexington does," Perry said.

Wells and Perry had tickets to see Jackson in London in 2009, but he died before the concerts.

They went to Europe anyway and did the Thriller dance in London, Paris and Ireland as a tribute to the King of Pop.

Elliott, 33, said this was the sixth year she had joined the Thriller reproduction in Lexington with her two friends.

"It's fun to get dressed up and play a part at Halloween," she said.

The three huddled under a blanket before the dance started, then joined hundreds of other zombies who, despite staggering into the street like, well, zombies, turned out to be pretty light on their feet.

Many of the spectators were parade veterans, but Hugh Loeffler, who came with his daughter Amelia, said it was his first time.

He said it was nice to see so much activity downtown.

"It's part of the downtown resurgence," Loeffler said.

Liz Wilhelm, 55, a zombie who wandered around in the crowd scaring people before the dance — or at least creeping them out — said Sunday's dance was the coldest of the five she's been in, but she didn't care.

"It's the most fun I've ever had in my entire life," she said.

It was Debbie LaBoone's second year in the performance. She sent the choreography and video to her brother Richard Smith, a clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C., so he could practice and join her.

"I'm not going into old age gracefully," LaBoone said. "I want to do things that are fun and different."

Reach Bill Estep (606) 521-9607. Twitter: @billestep1.

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