By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 26, 2008 2:00 AM
Justin Williams dances during the Thrill the World event at Greenwood Middle School on Saturday.
As the clock struck 2 Saturday afternoon, 91 students at Greenwood Middle School fell to the gymnasium floor and stage area.
They lay motionless until strains of the Michael Jackson song "Thriller" filled the air and a few wisps of stage smoke wafted through the gym.
On cue, the students -- decked out in black, faces painted like zombies -- slowly arose and began their choregraphed dance -- along with dancers at 91 other venues in 13 countries.
Greenwood was the only school in North Carolina participating in the worldwide event to break the world record for "largest simultaneous dance."
The previous record had been held by a group in The Netherlands, which gathered 200,000 dancers for "What a Feeling" -- the dance from the movie, "Flashdance," said organizer Jennifer Lancaster, chorus and music teacher at the school.
The song choice was only fitting, said the second-year teacher.
"Everyone wants to learn 'Thriller,'" she said. "It is the Halloween dance."
Parents and well-wishers filled the stands as they waited for the conference call to connect the local dancers to the record-breaking attempt. They had paid $1 each to be there -- part of the school's benefit for Relay for Life.
Cheers erupted after the students sank back to the floor after completing their roughly six-minute dance.
Miss Lancaster said she went from classroom to classroom at the start of school to generate interest in the activity.
Students have been practicing their dance in small groups for a couple of months, she added.
"It was a long, hard journey," she said. "But we wanted to show that anyone could dance."
More than 100 students from fifth through eighth grade started out when practices began at the end of August. For Saturday's performance, 91 lined the gymnasium floor and stage area.
"The neat thing is this is something that everybody could participate in," said Selena Bennett, school counselor, who assisted with cataloging the event for the recordbooks. "It crosses all levels, all academic levels."
"It was fun," sixth-grader SyJanae Franklin said when it was over, adding that the dance wasn't too difficult to learn. "I liked being able to Thrill the World."
Kelcei Stoll, a seventh-grader, was already familiar with the dance.
"Last year, all the chorus people had done 'Thriller' at one of our concerts," she said. "One of my friends taught me."
It was the second time performing the dance for seventh-grader Megan Williams, who was part of last year's chorus.
The hardest part, she said, "was for everybody to put it together. We only had three or four dress rehearsals."
Sixth-graders Geoffrey Whitley and Elijah Coley compared notes as the crowd dispersed. Both said they had enjoyed being part of the event.
"It was fun, energetic and I had a great time. I loved it," Geoffrey said. "Miss Lancaster is a great teacher. I just can't wait for next year."
"The end part" was the most challenging, Elijah said, "because I couldn't remember all the steps at the end."
After their dance, the students and their parents enjoyed refreshments and games -- all to benefit Relay for Life.
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