Campy ghost-story lyrics and iconic dance moves have made Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” a staple of the Halloween season. In the 35 years since the song hit the air, “Thriller” has gained worldwide popularity, inspiring events such as Thrill the World, in which communities across the globe gather to concurrently perform the “Thriller” routine to raise money for charity. “We’re anticipating 300 dancers at the Sunken Gardens [this year],” said Janet Reineck, who organizes Santa Barbara’s Thrill the World event through her area nonprofit, World Dance for Humanity (WD4H). “There’s nothing on planet Earth like it!”
Reineck is the founder and executive director of WD4H, an area organization she started in 2010 that provides education and desperately needed resources to populations recovering from the Rwandan genocide. WD4H offers dance classes five days a week on a sliding price scale, with 100 percent of proceeds supporting the organization’s efforts in Africa.
For the last eight years, people of all ages and experience levels have learned the “Thriller” dance routine in preparation for the annual Thrill the World. When the zombies perform on Saturday, October 27, at 3 p.m. in the Courthouse Sunken Gardens, their undead merrymaking will be simultaneous with “Thriller” groups throughout our hemisphere. “It’s a transcendent experience,” said Reineck, “dressing up as an otherworldly being and dancing in sync with 300 people here, and with people all over the world. It’s a chance to connect with the world in an intimate and soulful way.”
Expect to see impromptu “Thriller” jams up and down State Street, at the harbor, at the popular Boo at the Zoo, and along “Ghost” Village Road in Montecito. On Sunday, October 28, the zombies head to Santa Ynez for performances in the Los Olivos town square, select wineries, and Cold Spring Tavern. The experience culminates in front of the Neverland Ranch. “You can think whatever you want about Michael Jackson, but he cared deeply about the world and wanted to share his music with everyone,” said Reineck. “It’s a magical setting. We always take a moment of silence to feel the spirit of that very special place. The wind comes up in the oak trees — it’s a beautiful time together.”
World Dance for Humanity began as a place for women to exercise and express themselves through dance in a safe, supportive environment. True to its motto, “dance locally, act globally,” WD4H has raised money for projects in Nepal, Kenya, Guatemala, Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, and Liberia. Since 2013, it has focused on Rwanda. The organization began by using the money raised from classes to purchase goats and cows for Rwandan communities. Now they provide education, training, and funding for businesses that enable people to lift themselves out of poverty. They also support education by sponsoring 200 young people to go to high school and college. Money raised from Thrill the World comes from event sponsorships and a $40 donation (also on a sliding scale) from participants. The goal for the 2018 event is $40,000, 100 percent of which will go to the WD4H Rwanda Education Fund and the Westside Boys and Girls Club, where WD4H volunteers work throughout the year with at-risk youth.
There’s still time to be part of Thrill the World! WD4H is offering 10 practices a week in Ojai, Montecito, Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, and Lompoc. The entire dance is taught at each session. There’s also a tutorial video on the WD4H website so aspiring zombies can practice at home. “It’s not about learning the dance perfectly,” said Reineck. “It’s about bringing your spirit to the occasion, letting go, giving yourself over to this exciting community experience.”
For information about World Dance classes and the “Thriller” event, see worlddanceforhumanity.org.