Thriller Dance Background and History

November 5, 2014 by
Filed Under: Blog, Dance Styles


Michael Jackson thriller dance

Halloween may have just passed, but Michael Jackson’s 1983 hit “Thriller” can always be heard blaring in dance studios worldwide. The horror themed pop song was used to produce one of the most influential music videos of all time. Filled with zombies and crazed ghouls, the video made an international impact and is still widely celebrated for it’s iconic dance scene.  In celebration of “Thriller”, let’s dig up some of its lesser-known details and shine some light on its dark and chilling dance.

The “Thriller” dance choreography was a result of a collaboration between Michael Jackson and Brooklyn born choreographer Michael Peters. Peters was a modern dance performer who won several prestigious awards for his choreography and directing work before his death in 1994. Peters worked with Michael Jackson to choreograph the music videos for “Beat It” and “Thriller”, and performed in both of them.   Michael Jackson shares a little about their dance collaboration:

“Usually, you know, it’s an interpretation of the music. It was a delicate thing to work on because I remember my original approach was, ‘How do you make zombies and monsters dance without it being comical?’ So I said, ‘We have to do just the right kind of movement so it doesn’t become something that you laugh at.’ But it just has to take it to another level. So I got in a room with Michael Peters, and he and I together kind of imagined how these zombies move by making faces in the mirror. I used to come to rehearsal sometimes with monster makeup on, and I loved doing that. So he and I collaborated and we both choreographed the piece and I thought it should start like that kind of thing and go into this jazzy kind of step, you know. Kind of gruesome things like that, not too much ballet or whatever.” -Michael Jackson

In addition to an amazing collaboration with Peters, the success of “Thriller” wouldn’t have been as great without Michael Jackson’s dance talent and execution. Michael was a self-trained dancer who never had any formal dance training. He believed, “the greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.” He learned by watching legendary entertainers such as Jackie Wilson, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Bob Fosse, Sammy Davis Jr., Marcel Marceau and Charlie Chaplin. Michael’s greatest inspiration came from watching who he called “the master” and “genius.” The Godfather of Soul Mr. James Brown “mesmerized” Michael Jackson. Michael shared, “I had never seen a performer like James Brown, and right then and there I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life because of James Brown.” Michael had a strong work ethnic and practiced endlessly until he could pop, lock, and moonwalk at a level unseen by the world.

Today people all over the world continue to celebrate “Thriller.” Thrill The World, an annual worldwide simultaneous dance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, was created for charity. This year, on October 25th, Thrill the World plans to be listed as a world record. Dancers all over the globe prepared to simultaneously dance the choreography at 10pm GMT. (

Michael Jackson and Michael Peters’ collaboration combined with dancing zombies, a dramatic horror story line and a world music video premiere on MTV brewed the perfect spell to craft a spooky success.   While the music video may be filled with ghoulish characters portraying the dead, “Thriller” is very much alive!

 Always wanted to learn the iconic and spooky dance? Learn “Thriller” with Ziva and the team at Bella Ballroom!