On April 19, 2009, Kevin Dua ’09 led an effort to break the Guinness world record for the greatest number of people performing pop singer Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” dance.
But then, on June 25 — just over two months after the record was broken on the College of William and Mary campus — the King of Pop died.
“It was a very surreal moment,” Dua told The Flat Hat on June 26. “It’s still hard for me to know or understand how I’m supposed to feel.”
Two hundred and forty-two students, faculty and area residents participated in the record-breaking dance. The group smashed the previous record of 147 people dancing to Jackson’s 1984 hit.
Dua claims he has been imitating Jackson his entire life, and although Dua never attended a concert or met the singer, he said Jackson was important to him.
“It’s strange that this person, who was so distant, was essentially a big part of my life,” Dua said.
Unfortunately for Dua and the other dance participants, it’s possible the record could be broken soon. Almost immediately after Jackson’s death, various groups announced plans to break the newly made record — and it appears that a group in Mexico may just do so tomorrow, the date of Jackson’s funeral and what would have been the King of Pop’s 51st birthday.
The Associated Press has reported that over 10,000 people have signed up to break the “Thriller” dance record in Mexico City tomorrow.
Nevertheless, Dua said, the College’s record-breaking dance will remain special.
“Every time this record is broken, a lot of people will look upon it as a tribute, paying homage to Michael Jackson,” he said. “Someone pointed out to me that we can take credit for the fact that we broke the record; we were the last group to hold the title while he was alive.”
History professor Kimberly Phillips, an expert in black cultural and social history, said like Dua, she too had a longtime connection to the pop singer.
“I grew up with him, and then my children grew up with him,” she said. “When the news came out yesterday, both of my children stopped. They had no idea who Farrah Fawcett was … they both stopped to hear about Michael Jackson.”
Fawcett, an ’70s actress best known for her roles as one of the original Charlie’s Angels, died the same day at the age of 62.
Although known for his wildly popular music in the 1970s and 1980s, Jackson was known more recently for various controversies, including allegations of drug use and child abuse.
“What happened to him in the early part of this century, it was so tragic, it was so different from how he had represented himself and how we had perceived him for nearly three decades,” Phillips said. “That, I think, was so counter to how he had been. That’s why people paid attention. I think people were saddened by it, perplexed by it.”
Despite the negative press, Jackson remained popular with his fans. Phillips attributed his versatility to a “chameleon-like” ability to adapt and present himself in a new light.
“He was like a phoenix; he would rise up out of the ashes, and he literally would look different,” she said. “And we were fascinated by that.”
Phillips noted that, while it is too early to know how history will judge the King of Pop, his contributions to music marked a greater change in race relations in America.
“He had been such a catalyst in American music,” she said. “I think what people should remember him for is this remarkable shift in American popular culture. People should remember that he became popular at a moment when American racial politics were shifting, and shifting in ways we weren’t quite sure how it would happen.
“He was more than this crossover figure,” Phillips continued. “He was somebody that people of all races could embrace. He was a child, and he represented the best of what America could be and how we could sound. He gave us permission to think beyond our own prejudices and concerns and just glory in his ability.”