City Lights: One moonwalking step for a man

So now I have done the moonwalk. Or something close to it, at least.

Tuesday night, I joined a class at the Dance Asylum studio in Costa Mesa in which two dozen or so students learned the zombie choreography from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video.

No, that routine doesn't involve moonwalking. But before the class began, I cornered the instructor and asked if he knew the King of Pop's most famous step.

It turned out he did. With our sides pointed at the full-length mirror, we slowly went through the routine together.

You can find more detailed descriptions online, but basically, it goes like this: Keep your legs close together and bend one knee forward, with the toes on the floor. Then push the other leg back, straighten the bent knee at the same time you bend the straight knee, and so forth.

Of course, it may take quite some time before you do it with perfect finesse. Once, years ago, I was watching one of Jackson's videos with a friend who remarked, "It's as though gravity doesn't even apply to him."

At this point, gravity definitely still applies to me.

And it clearly applied to the other students in Tuesday night's class, who were in their fourth week of practicing the zombie dance from "Thriller" and still struggled with some of the intricate moves. That didn't seem to dissuade them, though, as they gamely went through the steps time and again and even applauded their classmates after successful attempts.

I did my best to copy the moves, but having missed the first three weeks, I retreated to the sidelines after a few minutes. If you're keen on learning the "Thriller" routine, though, there's another chance coming up: Dance Asylum instructors will teach a five-week class on it at the Huntington Beach Art Center starting Wednesday.

The rehearsal I attended in Costa Mesa was for the studio's Oct. 27 in-house showcase; the Huntington Beach class will perform at the Downtown Art Walk, Surf City Nights and a Halloween festival on the Strand.

Suffice to say that Jackson's art is alive and well in Orange County, three years after his death and however many years — 25? 30? — since his name started dominating the tabloids.

Like anyone else born in America in 1979, I have no memory of the world before Michael Jackson. One of my first possessions was a cassette tape of Jackson, in his soft, quavering voice, narrating the story of "E.T." Every Halloween party in elementary school seemed to have "Thriller" playing on the boombox; we lined up at Disneyland to see "Captain EO" and created parody lyrics to "Bad" and "Beat It."

Everything that happened since that time, I don't need to summarize. You remember the scandals and allegations. When Jackson died, I wondered for a time if his personal oddities would eclipse his musical legacy: Would his name simply be a punchline in years to come, with a tiny asterisk noting that he turned out some best-selling pop?

Evidently, the answer is no.

When Dance Asylum first taught the "Thriller" routine, it did so in response to a stranger's request. A woman called the studio and said she was planning a surprise birthday party for her soon-to-be 18-year-old daughter, and she wanted an instructor to teach 30 teenage girls to do the zombie dance. Peter Polak, who also led Tuesday's class, obliged, and a tradition began.

At the class, I spoke to handful of participants about what inspired them to sign up. Donna Hansen, a CPA from Newport Beach, said 22 people from her office had joined the class and planned to post a video of themselves doing the zombie routine (in full makeup) on their website for Halloween.

"I wanted to do the 'Thriller' dance since it came out," said Hansen, who noted that her colleagues have started doing the moves around the office, even en route to the copy machine.

Bruce Freeman, an experienced ballroom dancer from Westminster, said he admires Jackson's choreography so much that he's hooked up the Official Michael Jackson YouTube channel up to his TV so he can watch the videos on the big screen. He admitted there was a disconnect between his feelings for the music and his feelings for the man, but he could live with that.

"Personally, I don't like his lifestyle, but he's a great singer and dancer," Freeman said. "You can't take that away from him."

As the poet W. B. Yeats famously wrote, it's hard at times to separate the dancer from the dance. But in this case, the dance seems as enchanting as ever. And I'll ponder that as I keep practicing the moonwalk, still trying to slip those shackles of gravity.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at


If You Go

What: "Calling All Zombies" dance class

Where: Huntington Beach Art Center, 538 Main St.

When: 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays beginning Sept. 26

Cost: Donations are requested

Information: (714) 374-1658 or

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