On a recent business trip, Sally Jackson of Rock Island was asked to rattle off a fun fact about herself.
No one in the room expected her response: Every Halloween, she dresses up as a zombie and joins a flash mob, dancing to Michael Jackson’s iconic hit, “Thriller.”
“When I tell people, they’re stunned,” Jackson, an area human resources professional, said. “Dressing up as a zombie isn’t something I would usually do at all. It’s out of the box for me.”
Jackson is one of 13 Quad-City area women in a zombie-inspired dance crew, named the Monsters of Mayhem, who have made a tradition out of performing the routine from the 1983 “Thriller” music video several times — some planned and some impromptu — during the final weekend in October.
Michelle Vetter started the group four years ago with her best friend and fellow Halloween fanatic, Cheryl Nielsen.
“It’s always been a bucket list thing for me,” Vetter, 55, who works at the Rock Island Arsenal, said. “Every time I saw it, I thought, ‘Gosh, that’d be so cool to do it.’”
Starting out, however, proved tricky.
“It’s a real challenge to learn (the dance),” she said. “I was panicking at first. I thought there was no way I was going to learn all of the steps in time.”
Each year, it takes weeks of practice and “listening to the song on repeat.”
Vetter and her group have rehearsed the “Thriller” steps each Tuesday since early August in the gym of Eugene Field Elementary School in Rock Island.
It all leads up to this weekend. The Monsters of Mayhem have a slew of performances scheduled, starting with Fright Night on Thursday at Schwiebert Riverfront Park in Rock Island.
For each flash mob, Vetter plans to dress up as a zombified Michael Jackson — complete with a red leather jacket — straight from the “Thriller” music video. Others in her group are dressing up as zombie versions of baseball and basketball players as well as Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz.”
“It feels like we’re rock stars,” Vetter said. “You get all this makeup on and it feels like you have more confidence.”
Their flash mobs will coincide with dozens of others around the world Saturday, during an annual attempt to break the record for largest simultaneous dance using “Thriller.” The network of dance events, called Thrill The World, is billed as “the biggest Halloween event on the planet.”
In response to an interview request, Kathleen Kelley, managing director of Thrill The World, pointed to the event’s website. “We're happy to answer your questions, but you can imagine the number of emails we get,” she wrote via email.
On the site, downloadable dance instructions name every step of the 5 minute 58 second video. Examples include “Zombie march” and “March booty swim” and, during the chorus, the “Head ‘n’ shoulders” and “Hip ‘n’ roar.” There’s also a lengthy “Frequently Asked Questions” page that, in one section, says,"That’s what Thrill The World is all about. Dancing to exactly the same music with the same choreography all at the same time."
More than 70 events are registered on the website, in places such as Indianapolis, Portland, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., as well as Girdwood, Alaska, and cities in France, Mexico and New Zealand.
Vetter hasn’t yet registered her group on thrilltheworld.com. Locally, the universal “Thrill Time,” set for 10 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time would translate to 5 a.m. CDT.
First and foremost, Vetter is focused on recruiting new group members for Monsters of Mayhem and helping them master the routine.
“The dance is so complicated that you feel really accomplished when it’s over,” she said.
That’s how it went for Sally Jackson, who was reluctant to join at first.
After learning the moves, she enjoyed performing the dance during visits to local nursing homes.
“That’s the reason I committed to it,” she said. “The faces of the folks there when we perform were all smiles. It delighted them. That’s what it’s all about for me.”
She has also invited her family members, including the older bunch of her 11 grandkids, to the flash mobs.
“It’s kind of scary to see grandma all decked out in zombie clothes and makeup,” she said.
Jackson’s husband is a natural fan of her “Thriller” performances. His name is Michael.
This is a big weekend for the Monsters of Mayhem gang, who are all nearing 50 or in their 50s. After performing their routine at Factory of Fear, the haunted house in Moline, on Saturday, they plan to travel to area bars, still in their zombie attire, via a party bus. The “Thriller” fun won’t be over after Halloween, though. The group, who have become “wonderful close friends” over the last three years,” Vetter said, will get together again in December for an “Ugly Christmas Sweater” gathering, also via a party bus. They’ll likely bust out their dance moves around the Quad-Cities then, too.
“It’s so fun that we just do it when we’re hanging out grabbing drinks sometimes,” Vetter said. “And everyone watching gets into it. I bet there are a million videos of us that people take of us on their phones."