Adding merriment to Halloween in Salida

Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is a Halloween anthem, and performing the zombie dance on F Street is a favorite Salida tradition.

Marlayna Mackenzie started the tradition with her then neighbors, Vic and Lori White, in 2011.

“We wanted to do something for the kids at Halloween time. We called ourselves the F Street Gang,” she said.

Mackenzie said she went on the internet and searched for the simplest version of the “Thriller” dance steps, and “it’s evolved” from there.

The first year, the gang had about a dozen dancers, mostly F Street residents. They started performing on 10th Street, outside Mackenzie’s home. But the number of dancers increased each year, forcing them into the street their fourth year.

That was also the first year the Salida Police Department blockaded a section of F Street for the production.

Last year, they had the most dancers ever, 33. Mackenzie said if the number of dancers increases too much more they will run out of room in the intersection. She believes the intersection can only hold about 50.

Pam Dubin took over the dance instruction three years ago. In October 2012 when she came to scout Salida as a possible future home, the Gang was practicing their routine in the street.

“I thought, ‘Woah, that is something I could actually do,’” she said.

Before moving, Halloween meant little to her. Now, “Thriller” rehearsals consume most of her October.

“For me, it’s been the same core group,” Dubin said. “It’s so much fun. The whole thing is so rewarding. All of us bask in the glow of it for weeks. When we run into each other, we have a zombie connection.”

On Halloween night, Oct. 31, the first dance starts at 5:30 p.m. and repeats every 15 minutes until 8 p.m. They’ll perform the 2-minute dance 11 times.

Mackenzie explained that the dancers are instructed to stay in character from the time they leave her backyard to the time they return between songs.

Dancers are responsible for their creative entrance to the dance and their death at the end. The dance starts in flash-mob fashion with the zombies emerging from trees, leaves, parked cars and the crowd.

For years, Mackenzie – the “zombie bride”– has hidden in a pile of leaves. She said she’s been kicked a few times and in response she’s grabbed a few ankles.

This year her routine will be slightly altered because she had knee replacement surgery.

“I’m not going to be able to fall down and die 11 times,” she said.

Inspired by her career as a competitive horseback rider, Dubin plays the “zombie cowgirl.” Her outfit is authentic and hard to “zombie-ize” – another word for destroy.

Mackenzie, who is a member of the costume committee, helps zombie-ize the costumes. Which seems to mostly involve scissors and red paint.

Children trick-or-treating might recall Mackenzie’s house from years past, as she famously hands out pencils. (Her husband hands out candy.) She only gives pencils to school-aged children, which is usually about 500-600 pencils. Mackenzie estimates 900 trick-or-treaters visit her house every year.

“It’s a burden to buy candy for that many. We can’t get too much candy,” she said.

Sometimes residents will come to Mackenzie’s house in the middle of the trick-or-treating saying they’ve run out of candy. She encourages her neighbors to do just that.

Before Oct. 29, candy can be dropped at Mackenzie’s house, 1003 F St.

Dubin said her favorite part of the performance is the third dance move.

“When the music comes on and the crowd responds, it’s a rush. We do it for the kids and the looks on their faces,” she said.