What would it be like to be a ... Dancer?

We asked Ben Lokey – who, amongst a career of fine dancing and choreographic achievement, was also one of the Zombie dancers in the video of
Michael Jackson’s Thriller – about being a dancer in this legendary film clip.
Ben Lokey

How did you get an audition for Thriller and how old were you then? (Rebecca, Paris G. & Angus)

Well guys, they have what are called "open auditions" for most of the videos, movies, etc. That means an announcement is made in the local papers that the audition will be held and anyone can go. But many shows have "closed" auditions, which means only for those who are invited. The choreographer for Thriller was an old friend of mine, by the name of Michael Peters. So he invited me to come to the audition, which I did. I was 38 years old.

It's close to midnight and something evil's lurking in the dark ... oh no, it's only Ben!

How long did it take to learn the Thriller dance and become so synchronised? (Jake & Erin)

Jake and Erin, you may not believe it, but we learned all the choreography in just two days. During those two days, we also were fit for costumes and for the prosthetic teeth they made for each of us, to create the Zombie look. Then it took two nights of filming with the crew, which we did outside, in Los Angeles.

How did you learn all those dance moves? (Bailey)

Well, Bailey, learning choreography is like learning most other things. You need to study and work hard to learn "the language" of dance, which are the steps. The better (more) you know that language, the faster you are at picking up new combinations of steps. The choreographer will choose dancers who are experienced enough and talented enough to pick up the steps he gives them quickly, since there is often not much time to get everything learned.

A moment captured in 'Thriller'

How long did it take to get into the character makeup and costume? Did you name your character? (Bailey, Erin & Morgan)

These are good questions, guys. It only took a few minutes to get into the mood of the character, because the choreography is designed so well that it does that for you. The makeup took one and a half hours to apply. That was the longest part. And the costumes were mostly normal clothes, even though they had been cut up and dirtied. I wish I had thought of giving my character a name! If I had, what do YOU think it should have been?

How did the dancers react when they saw themselves as Zombies? (Abbey)

That's always a fun part, Abbey. Seeing yourself for the first time in a costume. I remember how we couldn't even recognize one another and everyone began to act like Zombies!

Well here's a 'Shuffle of Zombies'! Can you spot Ben?
Do you still have the costume you wore to make Thriller? (Rebecca)

No, Rebecca, they kept the costumes. Not sure why, since they were all torn up. Ha!

How long did this 10 minute video take to make? (Flynn & Simon)

It took us two days to learn, Flynn. And it took us two nights, Simon, to shoot the video. Now that was just the dancing part that I was in. It probably took a few days longer to shoot all the movie theatre and haunted house parts.

What was Michael Jackson
like to work with? (Flynn & Morgan)

Michael was a very sweet, kind and happy person to work with. He laughed and joked with us a lot. He was a hard worker and ALWAYS nice to his dancers. He will be greatly missed.

Ben and Michael Jackson.

What was your favourite part when working on
Thriller? (Abbey)

Well, Abbey, I enjoy the rehearsals very much. They can be a lot of fun. But when you get to the filming, there can be a lot of pressure to not make any mistakes!

How did you become a dancer? (Simon)

I began taking a few dance classes when I was a senior in high school, Simon. Then I just fell in love with dancing and when I got into College, I was going to a school that had a big dance program and so I got into that and soon became a professional dancer in a ballet company.

Which other famous people have you worked with and what were they like on the dance floor? (Jake, Maia, James & Angus)

Well guys, I've worked with many famous people, although you may not recognize many of them, but perhaps your parents will! Ha!

I've taught dancing to some celebrities as well, like Juliet Prouse, Olivia Newton John, John Travolta, Ben Vereen and Brooke Shields. I've worked with John Travolta in a movie that was directed by Sylvester Stallone. I did a video with Cyd Charisse and danced with Ann Margret in her Las Vegas show. I was in a television show with Lucille Ball, and another with Cher. I also did two television movies with Danny Kaye.

L to R: Ben with John Travolta, Olivia Newton-john and Sylvester Stallone

What other movies or videos clips have you been in and which was your favourite? (Adrian, Sam, Flynn & James)

I starred in "Breakin'", danced in "Staying Alive", "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". Besides Thriller, I also was in Olivia Newton's "Lets Get Physical", and Michael Jackson's "Captain EO", which was a 3D video movie for the Disneyland parks. And I've also been in a few television shows and specials.

What did you have to do when you were dressed up as a French fry? (We call them chips in Australia!) (Ruby)

That was a milk commercial, Ruby. They were showing how many things go well with milk! I was the dancing french fry! Ha! You should have seen the hamburger, hotdog and mustard!

Ben as The Dancing French Fry?

What's your favourite Hollywood musical? (Neve)

There have been many wonderful Hollywood musicals, Neve. Of the old ones, I think I like "Fiddler On The Roof" and "Singin' In The Rain", the best. Of the more recent ones, my favorite is "Moulin Rouge". Sure a lot of wonderful Aussie actors and actresses these days, aren't there!

Do you still bust out the Thriller dance when the occasion arises? (Jessica)

HA! That's funny Jessica! Only when I want to impress a pretty girl! No, just kidding! That would be the LAST thing I would do! Actually, I did teach the choreography in my dance classes for many years. And, as you can imagine, everyone enjoys dancing it.

When writing to someone from overseas we like to ask: 'What do you know about Tasmania?' (You're not allowed to research it before writing back!)

Growing up, one of my favorite cartoons on television, as with most American children, was Bugs Bunny and one of his friends, the Tasmanian Devil.

A frisky little character who could spin around like a tornado! Through the years I've learned a little more but not many facts. I do know it is a BEAUTIFUL country, south of Australia and one of the south most points in the world. But I have been further south than you. I performed in Invercargill, New Zealand. We took a Broadway review show on tour through both the north and south islands of that country.

Did you know that when you are having your summer, we are having winter and when we are in summer, you are having winter? I still can't understand how you can have Christmas in the summer time.

One day I would love to visit your beautiful country.

Thank you so much Ben for sharing your part in what has become such a well-known and iconic video. The students loved this song and now we understand why "no mere mortal can resist the evil of the Thriller!"

Abbey knows a Zombie when she sees one!

Rebecca thought a Zombie student might make an appearance in the film clip. I didn't see one there, but I have seen them at Albuera Street Primary School!!! I'm sure there are a few in my class ...