November 25, 2019 | By Amanda Sieradzki
A Decade of ‘Thrilling’ Dance for Charity
Thrill St Pete Performs at Shopapalooza
November 30 – December 1, 3 pm
Vinoy Park, St. Pete
It is hard to hold onto your humanity while wading through the shopping hoards on the busiest consumer holiday of the year. Though you might feel zombified on the inside this Black Friday, St. Petersburg’s 10th annual Shopapalooza will host some real-life dancing ghouls for a good cause on Saturday, November 30 and Sunday, December 1.
Also celebrating their tenth year, Thrill St. Pete flash mobbers will be performing at Shopapalooza in Vinoy Park. Founded in 2009, the group has hosted hundreds of flash mob performances to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Jennifer Crawford, one of the organizers, says that despite the Halloween-inspired music, zombies will be decked out in festive gear to entertain Shopapalooza crowds throughout the weekend.
These zombies don’t hunger for brains or bargains however. Just as Shopapalooza asks consumers to think small and support 225 local businesses when it comes to their gift giving, Thrill St. Pete will be raising funds for local charity, the Mr. Strong Foundation.
Every year Thrill St. Pete chooses a charity to donate the money they raise from dancing. This year, they’re excited to support the foundation’s mission to make sure no special needs child goes without therapy due to financial or insurance constraints.
The Arts Coast Journal spoke with Crawford about being indoctrinated into this spooky, philanthropic dancing crew in 2013 and how the organization will bring holiday joy to the community this season.
How did you get involved with Thrill St. Pete?
I didn’t know what a flash mob was until I saw it in a movie, so I started trying to find a group. I heard about Thrill St. Pete on the radio and that they were raising money to send a “zombie” kid to college for the Pinellas Education Foundation.
As a teacher [in Hillsborough County Schools] that struck a nerve. A couple years after participating, the leader stepped down and there was a need for someone to take over. I just felt like it was such a good group that has a great mission behind it. It is more than a dance. It is about helping charity. I couldn’t sit by and let it fall apart so I decided to take on that responsibility.
What does it take to be a flash mobber?
Not much, you just need to learn the dance, which is six minutes long. You’re a zombie so you don’t have to be a perfect dancer. You just have to be someone that is going to get out there and have fun.
We break down the dance into very easy steps and hold classes, all free of charge. We have kids as young as four and adults as old as 70 participate.
We also have the dance available online. If people join our Facebook page or email list they can get all the information about our rehearsals and any fundraisers that we are holding.
How do zombies make their way into a holiday event like Shopapalooza?
People ask us to do Thriller all year long. We did a bachelor party where they asked us to kidnap the fiancé, a ‘Sweet 16’ in the middle of a Japanese restaurant, and a Valentine’s Day event called Zombie S’mores.
We’ve also recently started adding in some other choreography and mash-ups to our repertoire to shock the audience. During Halloween you’ll find us looking gorier, but for Shopapalooza we’ll do something more holiday oriented and dress festively.
How can people at Shopapalooza contribute to the Mr. Strong Foundation?
We always choose a local charity so that we know the money is really going towards the group that we’re trying to help and that it is really making a difference. The money is raised by the performances that we do. We ask wherever we’re dancing to write a check directly to the charity on our behalf.
If shoppers go to our Facebook page, we have a donation link where they can contribute. It’s always a really good feeling when at the end of the year we get to present the check to the charity we’re raising money for because they’re always so appreciative.
In celebrating your anniversary, do you have any goals for the next 10 years of the Thrill St. Pete organization?
I never thought I’d be in charge of a group at all. It’s a lot of fun, for a good cause, and I’ve met some amazing people.
We are looking to expand our repertoire of dances so we can do more flash mobs and meet the needs of other requests that are asked of us. Although we’ve done it, not everyone wants Thriller in July, so I would like to work towards coming up with other dances we can continue to do throughout the year.
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The Mr. Strong Foundation serves special needs children from
Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Manatee counties. Details here.