On Stage

Thrillingham

Dancing like the dead

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bellingham has an affinity for zombies.

For proof of this, I hearken back to the first live “Thriller” performance I saw a handful of years ago. In that instance—the year singer Michael Jackson departed from his mortal coil—“Thrillingham” performers stopped traffic on Holly Street on Halloween night in order to shuffle like the undead for the crowd of costumed revelers.

In the years since, “Thrillingham” performers have transformed themselves into fearsome, flesh-eating zombies and turned up in locales in Fairhaven and downtown Bellingham every Oct. 31, ready to share their spooky song-and-dance routine.

Kamea Black, the coordinator for this year’s “Thrillingham,” says the years she’s spent being part of the party—two as a performer and two as an organizer—have shown her that pretty cool things happen when Bellinghamsters gather together for a common cause. 

Black says there are a variety of reasons the dancers practice their moves through October and spend their Halloween nights dressing up like zombies.

“We have the ‘I am new to Bellingham and I need to get out,’ the single mom dancing with her kids, the zombie enthusiasts, the ‘I was brought into this by someone who wouldn’t dance alone,’ the coffeehouse manager, the girlfriends, the introverts trying to break out of their comfort zone, lots of students, and, of course, a few Michael Jackson fans,” she says.

“The neatest thing is watching these people as they struggle with all of the steps—there are a lot of steps—and then seeing them get it,” Black adds. “When they stick with me, and they practice, they get more and more confident in themselves and their body movements. Seeing them so happy, so excited and proud of themselves literally brings tears to my eyes.”

Although not everybody who learns the moves chooses to share them on the horrifying holiday, most do, and Black says those who can meet up a couple hours before the performances to eat, do each other’s makeup, shred costumes and take part in last-minute rehearsals.

From there, the horde of 100-plus zombies—who have been taught to groan, moan, snarl and generally act like they’re crazy for brains—march from a secret locale through downtown.

“It is like something from a movie, and it feeds on itself, so by the time everyone gets to the park they are ready to thrill your socks off,” Black says of the big reveal.

Diverging from past years, this Thursday’s performance will take place at one locale only—Maritime Heritage Park. Attendees should secure a spot before 8:30pm, when “Thrillingham” will get underway. (Another change this year is that a percentage of funds raised by dancer contributions, donations and onsite merch and beverage sales will go to Womencare Shelter of Whatcom County.)

Black says other surprises are in store for those who brave the zombies at Maritime Heritage Park, including additional dance performances from several local studios, Michael- and Janet Jackson-inspired dancers, and more.

“Think Halloween variety show, followed by a community dance party,” Black says.

When asked why she thinks viewers should add Maritime Heritage Park’s zombie party to their Halloween haunts, Black recalls a moment before last year’s show when one of the youngest zombies rushed up to her and, with a huge smile, pointed out all the people that were there to see her dance.

“She reminded me why I was there,” Black says, “Why we were all there—to create community, and have some Halloween fun!”

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