William & Mary

W&M students attempt to break Thriller record

  • Thriller
    Thriller  Students perform the dance number from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video in the Sunken Garden Sunday night in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Thriller
    Thriller  A student dressed like a zombie performs the dance number from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video in the Sunken Garden Sunday night.  Photo by Stephen Salupkas
  • Thriller
    Thriller  Students perform the dance number from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video in the Sunken Garden Sunday night in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record.  
  • Thriller
    Thriller  Even an injured leg couldn't keep this student from participating in the event.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Thriller
    Thriller  Students perform a move from the dance during the Sunday afternoon event.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Senior Kevin Dua is the first to admit that one of his greatest aspirations in life is a little strange.  After all, many children who grew up in the 90s spent years of their life singing and dancing to all of Michael Jackson’s greatest hits, but only Dua has his eyes set on breaking the Guinness Book of World Record’s record of the largest Thriller dance.

On Sunday, April 19, an appropriately gloomy afternoon, zombie wannabes and bystanders descended on William & Mary’s Sunken Garden to be a part of the record-breaking attempt. It will take approximately two weeks to receive official word from Guinness on the success of the attempt.

When the event officially began at 2 p.m., only 74 students, faculty and staff of the College had shown up to participate—not nearly enough to break the official record of 147 people.  Dua, however, was not worried.

“We’re going to break it,” he promised the crowd as he updated them on the count.  “Keep practicing!”

He was right.  Slowly but surely, more participants trickled into the Sunken Garden.  When it was time to finally record the attempt, Dua had gathered 242 people, easily defeating the previously recorded number.  When the final count was announced after the official recording took place, the dancers and bystanders roared in excitement.

Before they could make history, however, there was a tremendous amount of work that needed to be done.

“You see these videos on the internet of hundreds of people doing the Thriller dance, but none of them went through the official procedure to get it listed in the Guinness Book of World Records,” Dua explained.   “In order for it to count, you have to go through their process carefully.”

In addition to keeping a ledger of all participants and making sure no one participated without signing it first, volunteers made sure that no dancer left early without first crossing their names off the list.  The 242 dancers were divided equally in quadrants and kept in relatively straight lines.  Several cameras were set up at different angles around the Sunken Garden to capture each section, so that when the Guinness Book of World Records reviews the videos they can remove dancers from the official count they feel didn’t perform Thriller correctly.

Teaching the dance was another major hurdle, but one Dua was able to overcome with help from his friends.  A group of nine students, who had previously been taught the dance by Dua, led each section of dancers as they rehearsed for two and a half hours before filming.  Two organizations, the First Year Council and the Ludwell Hall Council, also helped out by bringing refreshments, monitoring the coming and going of dancers, and participating in the dance.

Though his victory depends on The Guinness Book of World Records’ official review of the event, Dua is still proud of the event’s success, and even more surprised by the number of people who came to participate.  Over a chorus of “Congratulations, Kevin!” and “We love you!” he felt humbled by the experience.

“This never would have worked without everyone getting involved,” he said.  “Whatever happens with the Guinness Book of World Records, I’m just glad we all had the opportunity to come out as a community and achieve this together.”