Allan Alday, Friends of the Library continue “thrilling” tradition


For decades, Michael Jackson’s hit song and music video for “Thriller” have been associated with Halloween. The musical staple has cemented its place alongside trick-or-treating, pumpkin carving and costume parties in holiday traditions. And on Oct. 12, in the spacious, makeshift “dance studio” in the Ponte Vedra Beach Library, local instructor and award-winning dance maven Allan Alday continued that tradition, teaching an abbreviated version of Jackson’s famous Thriller choreography to local residents.

With a group of 11, Alday faced the room’s looming windows fashioned into “mirrors” and counted as he walked forward, twitching with every eighth count. Mimicking the gait of a zombie he turned back towards his pupils for the night with a grin.

“Tonight,” he announced, “We’re going to turn into zombies.”

It’s a tradition Alday has held for more than five years with the Friends of the Library at the Ponte Vedra branch, wherein he teaches a group of students the memorable living dead choreography. Each year, the lure of Thriller’s dance brings a crowd of teens, adults and seniors eager to recreate one of the most lasting memories of Halloween many of them had growing up.

“It’s such an ‘everybody’ song,” said Youth Services Assistant Suzanne Egeln. “Everyone associates this song with Halloween, everyone knows certain parts of the dance and everyone has a memory of it, whether they were around when it was released or many years after.”

For Egeln, who was a college student when the song made its debut on MTV, thriller made a lasting impression as the “first of its kind.”

“Up until this video came out, no one was doing what (Jackson) was doing,” she said. “It was the first time something so tightly choreographed had been done with so many people – everyone wanted to learn this dance. It changed everything.”

The revolutionary concept, Alday agreed, is what’s made the song and dance a mainstay for generations.

“It’s a classic – the video itself is amazing and it’s a thrill for everyone seeing it for the first time,” he said. “Michael Jackson was just such an iconic artist and the production of this single was and … still is unlike anything ever seen, so it never gets old.”

Among Alday’s students, the sentiment was the same, especially for Anne Fletcher, who drove from St. Augustine for the lesson.

“I remember there being so much anticipation at that time,” Fletcher recalled. “There were so many teasers on television, so much news about it being the longest, most cinematic music video up until that point. It’s something I still love because the choreography, the costumes and uniqueness of it are still so good.”

Those memories persisted with Alday’s pupils, their fondness reflecting the significance of the ways “Thriller” changed music forever. But for Alday, the most rewarding memory comes each year.

“My favorite memory of this song is the one I make every year, teaching a new group of people the dance,” he said. “Seeing everyone from the young to the young at heart have fun with this iconic dance is my favorite part.”