It was a Saturday like any other at the Vancouver Farmers Market, until a groaning horde of zombies tottered in.
On Esther Street, vendors bargained with shoppers, meaty aromas wafted off grills into the sky, dogs strained on their leashes, trying to sniff one another as their owners crossed paths, then, at noon sharp, nearly 20 zombies broke up the scene and caused one of their own.
They weren’t out for brains, and no one got bitten. Instead, they formed lines near the lunch area just off the street, someone hit the music and the group broke out in dance to Michael Jackson’s classic “Thriller.”
“Oh my gosh! Look,” an onlooker called out as the group sprung into action at the sound of the unmistakable opening polyphonic synthesizer blast. As if on cue, a large portion of the market virtually came to a halt, and people poured over to see what was happening — and record the moment on their phones.
The flash mob — a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public space to perform usually a dance or small skit before quickly dispersing — was a group of Zumba enthusiasts who wanted to celebrate the spirit of Halloween. After bringing in the crowd with “Thriller,” they sent them off with a dance to another holiday classic, “Monster Mash.”
Jennifer Heini-Withee, a local Zumba instructor who organized the dance, said she was building off years of tradition. Several years ago, another person lead an unsanctioned “Thriller” dance in Vancouver Mall. When that person moved out of town, Heini-Withee didn’t want to see the dance go with her.
“It’s been such a fun event I wanted to keep it going,” she said Saturday afternoon. But rather than risking an unwelcome greeting from mall officials, she and the group brought the event downtown two years ago.
“What better day than the last Saturday of the Farmers Market and just before Halloween?” she said.
The group was a mix of children, Zumba teachers and retirement-age Zumba dancers, all made up and dressed up in varying degrees of gory, grayed or bony makeup.
Their enthusiasm, and the beat, were infectious. Soon, many in the crowd were clapping in time and doing the same moves when they recognized them.
Although it’s arguably Jackson’s most popular dance, the “Thriller” is not an easy routine to follow. Saturday’s flash mob didn’t exactly meet up to get the steps down beforehand. But lucky for them, Heini-Withee teaches eight Zumba classes a week, and, during the month of October, she includes the “Thriller” dance in every one. Then she and other instructors put the word out to the community.
“We just tell them to dress up like a zombie … learn the chorography, show up, do the ‘Thriller’ and it usually just works out,” said fellow Zumba instructor Veronika Azurdia Maza.