The creative mind behind the Thriller dance.

Halloween is packed with creativity. The holiday offers an annual creative outlet for adults and children alike. Costumes, decorations, and pumpkin carving all provide great opportunities to show off your imagination. I am always inspired by the ideas and executions I see at Halloween.

This Is Thriller

There is one epic stroke of creativity that re-emerges every Halloween that I have been awed by for the past 36 years. The Thriller Dance. Michael Jackson released the Thriller album in 1982. And In 1983 the music video to the title track was released as a 14- minute mega video, or short film, depending on whether you are more impressed by really long short things, or really short long things.

The Wows

The video is creepy and totally engaging. There are 2 wowing surprises. The first comes when MJ transforms into a werewolf, which allows him to chop a tree down with his bare hand. The other comes 8 minutes and 30 seconds into the video, when the zombies break into the Thriller Dance.

Thriller Vid

The Thriller Dance

Thirty six years after its introduction I still see the Thriller dance performed every year at Halloween. But this year when I saw it, in the post-Leaving Neverland era, I wondered who actually choreographed the Thriller video. Thanks to the Googler machine, I didn’t wonder for long.

michael_peters_thriller_choreographer
Michael Peters

Michael Peters

The Thriller dance was the brainchild of Michael Peters, the talented choreographer who also danced in the video as a zombie. Peters’ highly entertaining dance has not only stood the test of time, it is one of the worlds’ best known dances.

‘The Thriller dance is just so universal. The moves from the dance are so iconic that you can go anywhere in the world and people will recognize the moves immediately.’  – Amy Brinkman, Director of Education at Danceweorks

Beat it forklift

Beyond Thriller

But if you know 80’s pop culture you know some of Michael Peters’ other work too. Not only did he choreograph Michael Jackson’s Beat It video, he was the dancing gang leader, dressed in all white, who was delivered to the gang fight via forklift. Because when you choreograph a dance fight you get to decide your own entrance. I imagine him talking through the steps in rehearsal like:

‘5, 6,7, 8… Forklift, Switchblade, Tie-Our-Wrist-Together, Stab…’   -Michael Peters

Beat it pic
Michael Peters wearing shades, and what looks like a belt and giant belt buckle around his neck.

Peters also wore sunglasses despite the fact that the video takes place at night. Apparently Peters was inspired by the era’s Corey Hart, who also wore his sunglasses at night.

Beyond MJ

Peters staged the dance moves in Pat Benetar’s Love Is A Battlefield video. And Lionel Richie’s classic Hello video, where he teaches Richie’s blind date to dance.

Michael Peters and MJ

Tony Tony Tony!

In 1982 Peters won a Tony Award for Best Choreography for the Broadway musical Dreamgirls. He also helped mold Angela Bassett into a Tina Tuner-type dancer for the movie What’s Love Got To Do With It. In fact, Basset became such a good dancer that Ike Turner thought about beating her too.

Michael Peters Lives On.

Michael Peters died of an AIDS related illness in L.A. at just 46-years old. But his work lives on. Especially in the Thriller dance. Thank you Michael Peters for adding to our annual Halloween celebrations. Thanks you for creating such iconic cultural art. And thanks for reminding us that if you want to be delivered to a dancing gang fight via forklift you have to script that yourself.

If you haven’t seen the Thriller dance yet this year, or just want to see it again, here it is.

Happy Halloween!

Published by

Adam Albrecht

Adam Albrecht is the Founder and CEO of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. He believes the most powerful weapon on Earth is the human mind. He also authors two blogs: The Perfect Agency Project and Dad Says Daughter Says, a Daddy-Daughter blog he co-writes with his 12 year old daughter Ava. Adam can be reached at adam@theweaponry.com.

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