While porch lights glowed and trick-or-treaters moved from house to house, a group of about two dozen ghouls gathered in the median of Manito Boulevard on Halloween night.
When the eery – and eerily familiar – music started playing, longtime residents and newcomers circled around them.
Then the zombified dancers struggled to their feet to perform the dance “Thriller” – a decade-old tradition held between 27th and 29th avenues each Halloween.
Three-year-old Serena Keenan and her sister Josie, 5, bobbed along to the beat dressed as Cinderella and Belle.
“I don’t think I could remember” the moves, said the Keenans’ 5-year-old friend Maggie Byrne, Serena’s fairy godmother for the night.
Maggie’s mother, Ashley Byrne, said the tradition is part of why they love trick-or-treating in the area.
“You can trust and let your kids run and it’s delightful,” Byrne said.
Ashley Reese, who has lived in the Manito area for about eight years, said she’s enjoyed coming to see the flash mob from her house down the street. But she was bringing her daughter, Amelie, a Hutton Elementary School third-grader dressed as Hermione from “Harry Potter,” for the first time this year.
“Maybe you can do it one day,” she said to Amelie.
Organizer Nikki Lockwood first had the idea for the flash mob after Michael Jackson died in June 2009.
She decided to learn the “Thriller” dance and teach it to others. Then it became obvious that it would be a perfect Halloween event for a neighborhood that gets thousands of trick-or-treaters, she said.
Two of the original dancers were Lewis and Clark High School juniors Jadyn Malone and Elisa Flores, who dressed as a witch and a Sneetch from Dr. Seuss this year.
“Nikki wanted to do a flash mob so we put it together,” said Flores, who was a second-grader and competitive dancer for the inaugural dance. “It’s really fun. It brings back good memories.”
By the time October 2009 rolled around, Lockwood was practicing with a group of a dozen or so zombies twice a week to hit each step of the dance. Lockwood practiced by herself for a couple of hours each day so she could be a better instructor.
“Nobody can move like Michael Jackson, so it pales in comparison,” Lockwood said. “It usually has some mom interest. And a few brave dads.”
Lewis and Clark sophomore Samarra Salcido, who donned sugar skull makeup for Halloween, first danced in the flash mob three years ago when her mom wanted to join the group. She said it was a departure from competitive dancing when she was younger, and she got to do it with her parents.
“This is something we do as a group and have fun,” Salcido said.
The group planned two shows for Halloween this year and let people know it was happening on Facebook and Nextdoor.
Lockwood’s house alone greets more than 1,000 kids with candy each year, so scores of people showed up to see both flash mobs and dozens more watched as they walked by.
“I can’t stand Michael Jackson, but every time ‘Thriller’ plays here, I tear up,” said Brad Read, a teacher at Shadle Park High School whose two sons and wife danced the first year with Lockwood. “It anchors our community together.”
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