D.C. students surprise downtown passersby with rendition of ‘Thriller’

Emma Brown/The Washington Post - Savoy Elementary Students drew a crowd of smiling passersby Wednesday with their zombie costumes and their street performance of "Thriller" outside the Old Post Office Pavilion.

Dozens of pint-sized zombies descended on downtown Washington on Wednesday afternoon, drawing a crowd of smiling passersby with their Halloween-appropriate rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

Charmaine McDuffie grinned as she walked past the performance on Pennsylvania Avenue, in front of the Old Post Office Pavilion. “They are so cute!” said McDuffie, who works down the street at the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s nice, she said, “to see kids doing some positive stuff.”

(Emma Brown/The Washington Post) - Kechelle Settle, wearing one Michael Jackson-esque glove, leads the Thriller performance.

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The zombies were students at Anacostia’s Savoy Elementary, a long-struggling school in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Principal Patrick Pope is using art as an anchor to transform the school, betting that an infusion of dance, music, theater and visual arts have the power to engage students and lift overall achievement.

The children suited up in costumes and makeup Wednesday and rode the Metro across the Anacostia River for their street performance

Flash-mob dancing is becoming a tradition at Savoy, and one that kids work hard for and anticipate eagerly, said Michael Weems, Savoy’s dance teacher and choreographer. “It’s great to see these kids grab on to something and be excited,” said Weems, who grew up in Southeast Washington and knows where his students are coming from.

Nine-year-old Kechelle Settle led the Thriller performance, pulling on one Michael Jackson-esque glove and dancing solo before her classmates, lying zombified on the ground, arose to join her.

Her mother, Carla Settle, looked on, capturing the moment on her cellphone. She said the school’s arts focus, including Saturday rehearsals, has been a boon for her daughter, teaching determination and perseverance alongside singing and dancing.

“She loves going to school. She just comes home so enthused ... this is her motivation,” Settle said.

Steps away, Australians Lam Bui and Christina Lim, in town for an engineering conference, stopped to take photographs. “This is fantastic!” said Bui. “A very nice surprise.”

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