The Dancing Inmates

The CPDRC maximum security prison in the Philippines is home to murderers, rapists, drug dealers and 1500 of Youtube’s most popular dance stars.

In 2007 the official security advisor to the Cebu Government, Byron F. Garcia, uploaded a video to Youtube of the orange-clad inmates reenacting the Michael Jackson Thriller dance routine and the video went viral. People loved it. Like, 50 million hits loved it.

The video was a result of a really genius idea by Garcia to engage the inmates in an hour of exercise each day. The routines started out as simple marching exercises to music and swiftly turned into choreographed dance routines to pop music. Now, five years later, the prison employs dance instructors and choreographers as part of their staff and the inmates have put on numerous shows for government officials and the like, all documented for our entertainment on Youtube. [See this link to their Youtube account].

Absolute genius. So brilliant, that one can just about overlook the fact that Garcia’s appointment by his sister just screams of nepotism.

At one point, the prison was open to the public to come and watch the dance routines on a Saturday morning. Entrance fee included the show, a souvenir t-shirt and a photograph with an inmate.

The dancing inmates became so popular that they took on a role of national importance, being invited to dance at various state celebrations and festivals.

The programme has received much praise and much criticism, with ‘experts’ claiming that dancing can not form part of a rehabilitation programme and the prison is abusing their inmates (a claim which has been hotly denied by those very inmates).  Actually, inmates have received a small payment a few times for their dancing, either as a good behaviour incentive from government (who were very touched when the inmates created a special routine for a Founding Anniversary performance) or when their dancing has earned the prison large donations such as the 1.6 million pesos donated during a Founding Day festival.

Dancing, as any dancer knows, requires discipline and teamwork. Ad as any team sports player will know, teamwork requires respect and cooperation. These inmates are learning to work together, to take pride in themselves and to be able to produce something, legally, which catches the attention and praise of the entire world. This seems like the best kind of rehabilitation.

I hope that all the people who see us will be happy in knowing that we, despite being prisoners, we were able to do this. Before the dancing, our problems were really heavy to bear. Dancing takes our minds away from our problems. Our bodies became more healthy. As for the judges, they may be impressed with us, seeing that we are being rehabilitated and this could help our case. We are being rehabilitated in a good way.

—Crisanto Nierre, inmate who played Michael Jackson in Thriller

Unfortunately, due to some accounting discrepancies and internal government strife, the public concerts and national appearances have come to an end but due to public outcry the dance program continues within the prison, and this is their latest offering.


BOWING to intense public demand, more than a thousand inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) in the Philippines have braved heavy rain to dance YouTube’s hottest tune.


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