When I was 16 years old, I did something profoundly stupid that would greatly impact my life several years later.
I was sitting backstage during my high school’s production of Jekyll and Hyde when I sat up, smiled, and said, “I’m gonna learn the dance to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.'”
(It’s important to note that a) this ridiculous kind of thinking wasn’t uncommon for me at the time and b) declarations like this usually ended less-than-spectacularly. This particular kind of ridiculousness, however, took the cake.)
Long story short, I “performed” the dance (in the sense that I flailed around and occasionally did something that kinda looked like part of the actual dance) in front of the rest of the cast, and it was recorded to video and uploaded onto YouTube.
From there, I became a bit of a laughingstock around my school (arguably justified, because DUDE, that performance was terrible…), and it became a running gag that lasted until graduation. It amused me to a degree, but I could still tell that the only reason people actually wanted to see me dance was that they knew I actually couldn’t, which was incredibly embarrassing to me and apparently hilarious to them.
But again, for the most part I was able to laugh along with it.
Upon coming to Oswego in Fall 2010, I figured I would start anew. No one would know about my dumb escapades in high school, and that would be for the best. Then, in October, I saw that SA was running an Oswego leg of Thrill the World, which was a worldwide simultaneous performance of “Thriller” for charity.
I considered this to be a “redemption” of sorts for my shenanigans in high school, so of course I decided to participate.
And lo, I learned something that has more or less shaped a significant part of my college lifestyle (at least in the social realm).
Because my connection to “Thriller” and Michael Jackson did not end there. In January 2012, I decided to attend an anime convention, Otakon, in Baltimore later that year. Now, I wasn’t a stranger to anime cons by any stretch; this would be my fourth Otakon alone. It was, however, the first time I’d ever dressed up in cosplay (which is basically dressing up as a particular character in anime/video games/comics/etc.; you’ve probably seen them on The Internet at some point…). I went as the Protagonist from Persona 4, as pictured below (photo courtesy of the Otakon Photo Suite).
Cosplaying for the first time at one of the biggest anime conventions on the East Coast (Otakon typically has attendance numbers around 30,000 people) wasn’t enough, however; no, I wanted to take things to an even greater level of crazy. So, I decided to enter the Masquerade Contest, which is perhaps best described as a cross between a fashion contest and a talent show. Otakon’s Masquerade is one of its biggest events; so big, in fact, that the organizers have to rent out the entire First Mariner Arena a few blocks from the convention center. The arena holds around 9000 people, and it’s almost always a full house for the Masquerade.
Where does the King of Pop fit into this? Well, being that I was in the Masquerade (as opposed to the Hall Costume Contest, which is basically a pure fashion show), I needed an act. Some kind of skit insane enough to honor the craziness of Otakon (and anime conventions in general).
What better way to do that than to write a dumb skit centered around my character doing “Thriller?”
Except, once again, I went a step further, and decided to learn another dance: “Beat It.”
Yes, that’s right: on July 28th, 2012, I performed an arrangement of “Thriller” and “Beat It” in front of around 7500 raging nerds in a huge arena in Baltimore. And of course, I have pictures (see below).
And the craziness continued this past fall, when I returned to Oswego. One night, about a week or two before my 21st birthday, a bunch of friends and I went to Lighthouse Lanes for a night of bowling. While I was waiting for my turn to bowl, I spotted a jukebox in the corner.
I went over and put on “Beat It,” then walked back to my friends. At the appropriate point in the song (y’know, the part in the video where he breaks up the fake knife fight), I said, “Hey guys, check this out,” and busted out the dance. My rationale? “Because shut up, that’s why,” I told myself.
One of my friends later introduced me to DJ Ronzo, who hosts karaoke at Old City’s Mug Night on Thursdays and Lighthouse Lanes’ Hall of Fame Lounge on Fridays. I had him play “Thriller” and “Beat It,” and this little gem was recorded:
(Do excuse the poor video quality…it was recorded from my phone…)
And so it began. A few weeks later, when I finally turned 21, I went to my first Mug Night, where I performed the dances once again. Needless to say, the crowd loved it. (And why wouldn’t they, right? How often do you go to a bar and see some idiot busting out Michael Jackson routines? Not often, I’d guess…)
Eventually, I became a bit of an icon at Old City. People loved to see me perform every week, and I happily obliged. I eventually started to expand my repertoire of MJ dances; I now know “Bad,” “Billie Jean,” “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” and “Smooth Criminal” in addition to the other two.
My motivation? What motivation? Here’s this entertainingly stupid thing I can do (and, more importantly, do WELL), so I figured, why not do it in front of a crowd (particularly a crowd of drunk people who, should I make a mistake here or there, would probably be too intoxicated to care)? If anything, it would speak to my sense of courage, and hey, it’s fun. I don’t know about you, dear readers, but I like to have fun, even if I look dumb doing it.
So I continued to perform every week during the semester (and every week in the Spring semester, as well). Early in the Spring semester, crazy things started to play out. People started recognizing me outside of Mug Night. I even got a job at Old City for a bit, having impressed the manager by getting up in front of everyone each week. And of course, I got to meet a bunch of awesome people and make my way into a variety of social circles, which has allowed me to make strong bonds with people I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to meet.
So what’s the moral of the story? Never be afraid to do something stupid (as long as it’s legal and won’t put you or anyone else in danger, of course). Don’t worry about looking dumb or about being made fun of. If you’ve got a crazy skill or talent, show it off! One of the saddest tragedies in life is that so many people refuse to stand out and be different, for fear of ridicule. So don’t fall into that trap!
Showcase that talent. Put yourself out there. And, most importantly, “Don’t stop ’till you get enough.”
That’s right, I just made a really dumb Michael Jackson reference here at the end. Why? Because shut up, that’s why.