Michael Jackson would've turned 51 yesterday. Mexico City marked his birthday by attempting to set a world record for the most people dancing to his hit song, "Thriller." Organizers claim almost 13,000 people reenacted the 1983 video.

NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

(Soundbite of crowd)

JASON BEAUBIEN: The first thing to note is that Michael Jackson's birthday comes in the middle of the rainy season here in Mexico City. Twenty minutes before thousands of people were about to attempt to break the world record for the most people ever dancing to "Thriller" in one spot, rain started to fall. Umbrellas popped open over black trilby hats and bloody makeup on the legion of zombies began to run. But rather than a thorough downpour, as often happens on late afternoons here at this time of year, the showers let up and the show went on.

(Soundbite of song, "Thriller")

BEAUBIEN: The previous world record for the most people simultaneously dancing to "Thriller" was a meager 242 at the College of William and Mary. Mexico City planned to obliterate that record. Under the leadership of a 23-year-old Jackson impersonator, who goes by the name Hector Jackson, tens of thousands of people packed in to a plaza in downtown Mexico City.

Hector makes his living lip-syncing the King of Pop's greatest hits at strip clubs, bars and birthday parties. But Saturday, dressed in a red-and-gold sequined jacket, Hector led the largest crowd of his career.

(Soundbite of song, "Thriller")

Mr. MICHAEL JACKSON (Late Singer): (Singing) 'Cause this is thriller…

BEAUBIEN: Hector strutted on a platform in front of a sea of dancers dressed as characters from the "Thriller" video. Adriana Fernandez Garcia came dressed in a white wedding gown splattered with fake blood like one of the ghouls from the "Thriller" video.

(Soundbite of song, "Thriller")

Mr. JACKSON: (Singing) Thriller, thriller…


BEAUBIEN: Fernandez says it was an amazing feeling to break the record and to be among so many people dancing. She says Mexicans wouldn't come out like this for just any big American pop star. She says Michael Jackson was different. Something about him transcended language and culture. And, she adds, that she liked the way he danced.

Ms. FERNANDEZ GARCIA: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: And the way he moves, she says. I admired that a lot. And when the event was over, the thousands of people, still dressed as if they'd just stepped off the set of the "Thriller" video, dispersed into the modern, chaotic Mexico City landscape.

(Soundbite of crowd)

BEAUBIEN: Middle-aged Mexican women in bright red leather jackets were eating tacos at a cart out on the street. Zombies moonwalked through the Hidalgo underground station. A father and his young son, in matching black fedoras, exposed white socks and patent leather shoes waited for the train.

In a sign of continued Michael Jackson fever, thousands of people are planning to gather at the Angel of Independence later today to dance to his song "Beat It."

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.

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