Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Zombie Dancemob in the Library! An All-Ages Event

This post is authored by Jennifer Johnson, BDP blog intern.

A group of zombie dancers do their best scary poses 
on the front steps of the library. (Thrill the World 2016)

Happy New Year everyone and thank you in advance for indulging my programming ramblings! I am super excited for my inaugural programming post to be this one in particular. There was a tease in my introductory post about my library’s Thrill the World programs and now you get to hear about it in full! We are headed to Zombieland, so remember rule #4: Seatbelts!

Before I tell you how I found out about Thrill the World, I want to direct you to their website so that you can see what exactly it is. I can’t explain it much better than they do themselves.

For me, this idea was born from the quirky, wonderful people of Cookeville, TN, my stomping ground. There was a group in 2008 that participated in Thrill the World, but sadly, I didn’t hear about it until after the fact.  However, I was determined that if they ever did it again, I would be right there dancing with them. I even began teaching myself the dance at home in anticipation! Now, to my knowledge, 2008 was the one and only year that Cookeville ever participated and my hope for zombie dancing glory dwindled.

When planning programs for Fall 2016,  one thing kept nagging at the back of my mind: You need to make Thrill the World happen. I knew that it was an annual event and that it happened on a certain date and time in October. And so, with the  of my supervisor and our teen librarian, I put it on the fall schedule that year.


 When planning this program, you need to rely heavily on the Thrill the World website. There’s a bunch of rules and regulations to make your event “official”, so it’s good to have it bookmarked. The dance is split up into eight sections, each varying in difficulty. We decided to have a practice every other week in September and then one every week in October (except for the week of the event), totaling five one-hour practice sessions. The practices were to be held on Wednesday nights from 6 pm to 7 pm (largely because this was the only night that we could fit it into our meeting room schedule). We required attendance of at least one of these practice sessions to be able to participate in the Thrill the World event on the last Saturday of October.

You can really rely on the tutorials, but I recommend learning it for yourself ahead of time. Some moves may have to be modified depending on participants’ physical abilities and it helps to be able to give them tips and pointers. My colleague and I began teaching ourselves the dance in early August and once we were familiar with the dance sections, we portioned it out so that we had an outline of what we wanted to cover at each practice (some sections, like the Hip N’ Roar, require a bit more time to learn than others). I will attach our outline from this past year so that you can see how we portioned the dance out. We also made sure we left some wiggle room for extra review or catch-up at the end.

From that point on, the practices were pretty straightforward. At every practice, we had a sign-in sheet and required every person to sign in and provide an email address. We emailed the dance link tutorials and updated everyone on which moves we had learned at that week’s practice via email in case they missed a practice. As it got closer to the event date, we sent out zombie makeup and costume links, as well as pertinent information for Thrill Day. We printed out dance scripts from Thrill the World’s website for our participants to take home.

We were sure to begin each practice session with a warm-up of some kind. (Rule #18: Limber up!) These could be Thriller-related but sometimes we changed it up with a different Youtube or GoNoodle video.

Thrill the World breaks each section of the dance down into four different parts:
-a demo (which is just the instructor demonstrating that section)
-Break It Down (which breaks down all the moves for that section slowly)
-Tips to Remember (any advice on how to remember the moves or alter them if necessary)
-Dance With Me (which has the slowed down Thriller track that you can dance to).

We would repeat these sections as many times as necessary during each practice session. It’s very important to be flexible on your time and communicate with the participants. We always try to encourage them to let us know if they need to go over something again. We’d end each session by putting together everything we had learned so far (including previous sessions) and dancing to the slowed down track, gradually working our way up to dancing with the full speed track.

Make sure that you encourage your participants to practice at home as much as possible! It took us way more than just the five hour-long sessions to perfect the dance, so encourage them to watch the videos at home if they have internet access. If not, see if they can get the Thriller track on their phone or an mp3 device and practice that way. If nothing else, encourage them to take the dance scripts home and go through the moves even without the music. Practice outside of the library programs is really necessary if they want to feel confident about the dance moves. If you’re incredibly fortunate like we are to have an amazing community of people, you will get really dedicated dancers who want to put the time in and they will be so proud of themselves when it is all said and done.

Registration forms are something that MUST be filled out before participants can “officially” dance on Thrill Day. Before the participants would leave each practice session, we would give them the option of filling one out if they knew they wanted to commit at that point, but we were sure to stress that it HAD to be done before Thrill Day if they planned on dancing. You can find a template registration form on the Thrill the World website.

To be officially registered on the website and to be counted in Thrill the World’s official number of participants, there is a registration fee of 25 dollars that must be paid before Thrill Day. Luckily, there is no minimum number of dancers per group. However, if you’re like we were, you want to make sure you have a substantial number of people committed before you take that financial leap. We waited until after our third practice session to see how many dancer registration forms we had before we paid to register our event. Our goal was double digits and we met that goal, so we then paid the registration fee, which came out of our programming budget.

The most important thing I can say about Thrill Day is to have fun! We made our event a big to-do, including inviting the whole community to come and support the dancers, but you don’t have to. We are very fortunate to have staff and volunteers who happily pitch in for big events such as this, but I know not everyone has that luxury. Keep it simple enough so that you don’t stress out about it because it’s important for you to be enjoying yourself just as much as your patrons are, especially if you’re dancing with them (which hopefully you are)!

Our Thrill Day event was roughly two hours long, beginning at 4:30 pm. We asked that dancers arrive and sign-in within the 4:30-5:30 hour so that we could be sure everyone was accounted for well before the dance began at 6:00.

A woman helps another apply zombie makeup in a sitting position.
We provided a table with sign-in sheets. At the sign-in table, we also had name tags for all the dancers and volunteers to pick up and armbands (we’ve used bandannas and ribbons) for “front-row dancers.” (These are the dancers who felt more confident with the moves and volunteered to be in the front row to help those who needed someone to follow.) I put a library staff member and a volunteer at sign-in to help keep things organized and show people where to go from there.

Once dancers got signed in, there were multiple stations to go to during that 4:30-5:30 block of time. We held additional dance practice and review (led by our “front row dancers” and supervised by a volunteer). We provided fruit and veggie trays, pretzels, and water for pre-dance snacks. We also provided limited zombie makeup and costume assistance. Most everyone got their costumes together beforehand, but for those who needed it, we bought a few zombie makeup kits from Walmart and put out some basic clothes distressing items such as scissors and black, brown and red acrylic paint. We had a couple of volunteers help with this as well. Between the snacks, zombie makeup, and the initial registration fee, this entire series of programs probably cost us around $50 to put on, which to us was a low cost for how successful it was.

In 2016, the weather was beautifully cooperative and we danced on our library’s front landing outside. Last year, we were not so fortunate. It was cold and rainy, so we had to dance inside in front of our circulation desk. There wasn’t as much space, but fortunately we had a smaller group so it worked out. The important thing is to know the size of your group and make sure you have adequate space to dance. It’s better to have an indoor space so that you can dance rain or shine, but for us, we use inside space as an emergency plan B since our outside space is better suited to a large dance group and audience.

As we got closer to the 5:30 time when everyone was to convene at the dancing area, I began setting up our cameras and music. Thrill the World guidelines state that the official uploaded video has to be a stationary video with everyone in the shot. I would recommend setting up multiple stationary cameras because one of them will malfunction, I promise. (It happened to us!) You also might want to have an extra camera to stream to Facebook Live or Instagram.

We played our music from the Thrill the World website on a laptop connected to a large portable speaker. The first year we had a hiccup with the music stopping, so I would recommend having a backup track ready to go in case something like that happens.

A group of people gathered out the library. A man in khakis
is counting and taking roll call.

At 5:30, we brought all of our dancers out to the dancing area and had them counted by a non-dancing witness (per Thrill the World regulations) by doing roll call. The audience began gathering at this point as well. We briefly discussed any last minute questions that anyone might have and about five minutes before Thrill Time, we laid ourselves out in an undead configuration on the library steps and began counting down the minutes until the dance. Our cameras started rolling at about two minutes till Thrill Time and then at 6:00 sharp, we danced our zombie hearts out!

After the dance was over, we all cheered, hugged it out and took group photos. It was truly a moment of triumph for everyone involved. It’s incredibly important to be present in those moments when it’s all said and done because that is when you will hear the most wonderful comments from participants and spectators. (Rule #32: Enjoy the little things. =))

Clean-up was fairly straightforward as most of our volunteers cleaned up their own areas before coming out to watch the dance. All that’s left after Thrill Day is sifting through all of the photos and videos, which is the really fun part.

I recommend keeping all the contact information that you’ve gathered for your registered dancers because more than likely, several of them will want to do it again the next year. It’s also a good idea to have a running email list so that when people ask you about it throughout the year, you can add their contact info. I’ve had so many people throughout the past year tell me that they are interested in doing Thrill the World after watching us do it that I’ve just started asking them for their email addresses so that they can be notified first when practices start back.

This may sound like a daunting series of programs, but I promise you that it is actually much easier than it sounds and so incredibly fun! I have a tendency to over-explain things because I want to give people as many details as possible, but as I said, you can do this as big or as little as you want. You certainly don’t have to have multiple practices over a long period of time or a huge two hour event. The truth is you don’t even have to register with Thrill the World and stick to all their strict guidelines if you just want to try it out. You can do it unofficially the first time you do it and then see if you want to try to be counted in the official numbers next time.

If there’s anything I haven’t covered here that you’d like to know more about, please feel free to contact me. I am more than happy to answer any questions you may have! (jennifer.johnson at jcpl.net)

Also, check out our Thrill the World videos and photo albums at the links below!
Thrill the World 2016 photo album
Thrill the World 2017 photo album 
Johnson City Public Library’s YouTube page (promos for event)