Thriller Zombie Hoop Dance Flash Mob Spins San Francisco

Nicole Wong and Sarah Starlight
Nicole Wong and Sarah Starlight: Photo by Jeff Medinas
When we first heard news that zombies with hula hoops were running amok on the streets of San Francisco, California, we figured Nicole Wong and Sarah Starlight of Cherry Hoops probably had something to do with it. Later, when the news arrived that the zombies weren’t just spooking tourists, but that they were gathering in hoop dance flash mobs and spinning it up to the sounds of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, then we knew for sure it couldn’t have been anybody else. The dynamic duo’s “Thriller” performance at Hoopcamp in 2011, later gave way to the Thriller: Zombie Hoop Dance video that earned them a 2012 Hoopie Award for Group Video of the Year. And now, the rumors that their “Thriller” vision had revolved into flash mobs turned out to be true, taking their magic from YouTube to the street.

With such an incredible community hooping event taking place, we knew we had to get to the bottom of it and find out more, so we interviewed the zombie hooping organizers themselves. You two first started performing a hooping version of Thriller together just the two of you, and then you added a crew for that awesome video, and now you’ve taken the hooping Thriller experience to the streets. What is it about Thriller that keeps you and so many others going back for more?

Thriller Zombie Hoop Dance Flash Mob
Photo by Kelly Page
Nicole and Sarah: We’ve performed “Thriller: Zombie Hoop Dance” a number of times now and what keeps us coming back for more is simple – connection! The feeling of connection and belonging is such an important part of our love of hooping, and we believe that Thriller, in its various incarnations, has tapped into other people’s desires to feel that they belong to something bigger than themselves as well. We’ve performed this several times and every performance has been a way of creating a different connection with each other, with our fellow performers and with various audiences. Thriller does make you want to join in. It just takes you back.

Nicole and Sarah: It does. When people hear “Thriller” it awakens a sense of nostalgia and who didn’t want to be a zombie in Michael Jackson’s original crew? The music itself transports people to a shared time and place: the revolutionary 1982 video and the excitement that we felt when we watched it. When we first created our piece for the performance showcase at Hoopcamp, it was primarily about developing a partnership between the two of us in rehearsal. It was our first foray into partner hooping. That night was a true highlight for us when we were met with such an astounding audience response. We reached out to them with our creation, and they reached back. They accepted our invitation to connect. And it happened again with the video.

Thriller Zombie Hoop Dance Flash Mob
Photo by Dave Golden
Nicole and Sarah: When we filmed the official video later that year, we wanted to expand the collaboration. We wanted our friends to become co-constructors of the performance experience and it was magical! Dancing in synch with a group of other people is challenging and satisfying and fills that spot in all of our hearts that longs for a sense of belonging. When other hoopers posted the video on their friends’ Facebook walls and re-tweeted the link, the much-repeated message was, “[Fellow hooper], we have to do this! Let’s do this!” Hoopers were reaching out to their own local communities and asking to make a connection. The Bay Area Hoopers flashmob was our attempt to meet the excitement in our community with support and resources to make the stated desire for a connection a reality. How did the two of you meet anyway? And when did you discover your mutual love for Michael Jackson and zombies?

Nicole and Sarah: One Sunday afternoon Nicole was facilitating a hooping birthday party at a public park in Berkeley. Coincidentally, that park also happened to be the site of that day’s East Bay Hoop Jam. When the confused East Bay Hoopers unknowingly joined a 9-year-old girl’s birthday party, Nicole, dressed in a purple wig and tutu, told us, “This is not the hoop jam you are looking for.” So how did you begin collaborating?

Nicole and Sarah: Our first collaboration took place under suboptimal conditions. We were invited to perform at a gig that required us to choreograph two 3-minute pieces in less than a week. With a surfing theme. Well, there’s no better way to bond than through adversity, so we took on the challenge, and one “Surfin’ Safari” and one “Rock Lobster” later, we found that we worked together very well. The rest, as they say, is history. So when did Thriller arrive?

Thriller Zombie Hoop Dance Flash Mob
Photo by Tiia Ferrol
Nicole and Sarah: We were getting ready for Hoopcamp in 2011 and we created choreography for a Lady Gaga song, but we wanted a change. We started with a bubble-gum pop song. We tested out a slow, lyrical piece. We just weren’t inspired. So on a whim, almost as a joke, we tried out Thriller, and as we did our first run-through, we had our ah-ha moment. Awesome. So how was it trying to put together a hooping flash mob, especially a themed one like this? What was the whole process like?

Nicole and Sarah: It was challenging to put together the flashmob. It took a Herculean effort to organize everyone, handle the scheduling, and field the questions, but in the end it was all worth it. We are so lucky to have an active, talented, resourceful and enthusiastic hooping community in the Bay Area. We wanted to tap into their expertise and resources by encouraging members to post costume ideas, share makeup tips, self-organize practice sessions, recruit photographers, arrange ride shares. We tried to make it as easy as possible for hoopers to participate, so we offered many sources of support too. We created video tutorials, developed written resources, offered free choreography workshops. We even did some one-on-one consulting with zombies in need. Part of the success of the flashmob was to make it low-commitment and fun. And then you were all there somewhere getting ready together.

Nicole and Sarah: Yes! The morning of the event we provided a community space for everyone to get ready and it was so much fun! It really added to the high spirits of the day. We played music, teased each other’s hair, put on makeup, held a zombie group huddle, and did a few last-minute run-throughs.

Thriller Zombie Hoop Dance Flash Mob
Photo by Jeff Medinas So where did the flash mob perform?

Nicole and Sarah: We had three flash mob performances. One at Union Square and two at the cable car turnaround at Powell and Market. How did they go?

Nicole and Sarah: They were a wild success! We had 30 hooping zombies, dozens of supportive hoopers and loved ones, one Pink Panther, and untold numbers of photographers participating. We were both so humbled by the level of commitment and enthusiasm that our fellow Bay Area Hoopers brought to the flashmob. You can see the love they put into it through their dancing, their costumes, and their zombie acting! We nearly cried with joy seeing everyone joining together to create this fun community experience. It shows. So, do the two of you have any more Thriller plans for the future?

Nicole and Sarah: The next phase of this project is to let it spread through our vast hooping community. Although we are friendly, like any good zombie our goal is to infect everyone – with our hunger for hoop dance. We hope that it will inspire other hoop groups to engage in more interactive hoop play and hoop choreography in their communities as well. It’s been the basis of our Hoopers’ Playground video and workshops too. We are in the process of creating a Thriller: Zombie Hoop Dance resource page at for people too with our notes and video tutorials, as well as inspirational photos and videos. It will all be freely made available. That’s not to say that all collaborations should be zombie-specific either. We just want to foster all different kinds of interactive and group hooping.

2 thoughts on “Thriller Zombie Hoop Dance Flash Mob Spins San Francisco

  1. Enjoyed another one from you girls. I showed the original video to my 3rd graders for their Halloween party. I wanted to make the celebration special for them since they are not allowed to dress up or have any “fun” treats for the party. They loved it and wanted to know how the people could do all that with hoops. I hope to get them moving around hooping during recess once I am able to save enough to buy a few hoops myself. Looking forward to sharing future hooping videos with my students.

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