Michael Jackson's Thriller video was released in 1983. This was the first music video to tell a story in the form of a short film. It made such an impression that people still perform this zombie dance today, 30 years after it first exploded onto the music scene. Thriller also has the distinction of being the first music video added to the United States Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Learning the Thriller Dance
How to Get Started
The best way to begin learning the dance steps to Thriller is to watch the music video at least once so that you can get an idea of the mood and the moves. The entire video shown below is almost 14 minutes long, but the dance section only lasts for two minutes, running from 08:29 until 10:29 in the video.
Once you've watched the video and know what to expect, you're ready to begin. Watch the dance sequence again as you practice the moves below to ensure you're matching the moves to the beat of the song.
The following common theater terms are used to describe some of the dance steps below:
- Stage right is on your right as you face the audience.
- Stage left is on your left as you face the audience.
- Downstage is the section of stage closest to the audience.
- Upstage is the section of stage away from the audience.
- RL is an abbreviation for right, left.
Beginning Dance Moves
Attitude is important when performing this dance, so if you want to remain true to the video, begin by standing still and glaring at the audience for the first few beats. Then:
- Raise your right shoulder while jerking your head toward it and back.
- Lower your shoulder.
- Repeat that head-and-shoulder sequence two more times.
- You're now ready to tackle the main part of the dance.
Thriller Dance Moves Step by Step
- Turn stage left and bend your knees while sticking one arm out behind you and the other arm in front.
- Do a forward-and-back shimmy.
- Continuing to face stage left, take four shuffling steps downstage, starting on the right foot and making a swimming motion with your arms that is similar to the breast stroke. Turn stage right and repeat, this time moving downstage while starting on your left foot.
- Do a small hop toward stage right, flinging your head back and ending with your right foot forward. Take two more small hops stage right, bend forward, and then turn left at an angle, continuing to glare with knees bent.
- Do three pelvic thrusts.
- Stand up straight, facing downstage. Raise your arms above your head and clap once, then lunge to the left while facing forward and moving your head RLRLRLRL.
- Stamp your right foot, and then raise and drop your shoulders before glancing left. Raise your arms straight above your head and clap once, then lunge to the right while facing forward and moving your head RLRLRLRL.
- Stamp your left foot, and then raise and drop your shoulders before glancing left. Walk forward with a shuffling gait in this pattern: R, L, RLR, then L, R, LRL.
- Face right and then left while swinging arms right and left with hands shaped like zombie claws. Lift right leg with knee bent, and point foot to the left.
- Swing hips RLRLRLRL. Point stage right on the last hip swing. At the same time, swing your left leg to the left with pointed toes. Swing hips RLRLRLRL again.
- Shape your hands like zombie claws and move them to the right while looking to the right. Take two steps to the right, then swing your zombie claws left then right while stepping in place. Look left as you raise your zombie claws to the left. Take two steps to the left, then swing your zombie claws right then left while stepping in place.
- Jump up, land with feet wide apart, and bend forward twice. Straighten up and swing head and arms RLRL.
- Jump and land facing upstage with feet wide apart. Swing head and arms RLRL.
- Jump and land facing downstage. As you land, lean to the left while flinging your right arm over your head.
- Place arms in a position like you're playing a guitar while moving your hips in a large circle. Shuffle your feet for several beats while moving your hips RLRL, then wave your right arm over your head four times.
- Face stage right and punch with both hands. Turn to stage left and punch rapidly, alternating arms RLRL. Pose like a glaring zombie for several beats.
- Pivot clockwise on your right foot, stomping six times with your left foot to move yourself around, shrugging your left shoulder forward with each stomp until you are facing upstage. Look over your right shoulder.
- Hunch over like a zombie, and take ten steps upstage with a very wide-legged stance. Turn around to face downstage.
Congratulations! You've just completed the main dance steps to Thriller.
Alternative Ways to Learn Thriller
If you prefer visual instructions to written ones, instructional videos are available to teach you the Thriller dance, such as the one below. You can also participate in a local Thrill the World event if there happens to be one near you.