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Philippine’s Amazing Dancing Inmates

November 10, 2007

I was very surprised the very first time I saw the “Thriller” on YouTube. No, I’m not referring to an upcoming horror film from Hollywood, but to the amazing dance-and-music performance by inmates posted by a security consultant on the popular online video channel.

As of November, videos on the dancing inmates have already received millions of views. The most viewed is the video entitled “Thriller” which attracted over 8 million-three-hundred-thousand views as of November 11. In the popular YouTube clip, the 1,500 inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) danced to the 1980 music popularized by international superstar singer Michael Jackson. The original video also gained over 25,000 ratings, over 20,000 comments, and was favorited more than 42,000 times.

I was not just bedazzled by the amazing harmony in the movement of the gyrating inmates who danced and grooved in unison to the beat of Jackson’s rock music, but also to the idea or concept which made them willing slaves, not of the prison authorities, but of the subduing rhythm of melody. It’s very unlikely to convicts who are generally regarded as dangerous elements of society.

Apart from the worldwide hit “Thriller”, the video clip entitled “I will follow him- Sister Act” nearly hit 1 million views, with over 1,300 comments, and was favorited 2,300 times. All the six videos (I’m not sure if I got the right number) have a total of over 10 million hits from viewers. They have also attracted world-wide attention as evidenced by the daily comments they received from YouTube visitors.

Is this in prison?” asked one YouTube member. If you’re not familiar with the imposed orange uniform on prisoners in the country, you might suspect that the performance was held on a city plaza. But hell no, it was done right in front of the Cebu City detention center perhaps with police authorities off-cam.

Their performance was even better than the ones we see during town fiestas.

It was liked watching a broadway musical ,” said another viewer who is a foreigner. At the early part of the “Thriller” video the inmates moved their hands forward like zombies to the beat of Micheal Jackson’s song, and the woman— no, the man— in the later part cringed in fear as he was chased by the guys in orange.

I never thought a group of detained convicts in the country would perform such an spectacular number as they did. The unison and harmony of their action as their body moved, as their hands waved, and as their feet leaped up to the staccato outburst of the song, means submission, not to the authoritative orders of the prison officials, but to unifying rhythm of the music.

A YouTube member, Toviz1, who is from the United States, summed it all when he said these words: “[This is] very creative despite lack of sophisticated equipments. Pinoys are very talented. Even in prison, they manage to do something best. Can you imagine if they are not poor and not forced to do bad acts just to survive? Poor economy and bad government by corrupt politicians are to blame.”

The last part of his comment struck me. He said “if they’re not poor and not forced to do bad acts” they could have used their talent to improve their lives.

Prison means squalor. But this one, the dancing convicts, their gyrating body that surrenders to the every beat of the rock music, and the harmony of their movements, negates the usual portrayal of most movies that we saw about prisoners and their cage.

This is much better than gang rumble, said another viewer.

Johngarcia2005 has something to say after seeing the video: “Wow! Very inspiring number! I hope these videos will be shown worldwide to show how creative Filipinos are! I’m very proud to be a Filipino!”

What have we learned from this? This video shows us the power of music. Its uniting clout. That music can unite us, it can animate or inanimate us, it can make us follow or disobey, and it can ease or worsen our burden. This means that music is not only for the free, it also for the caged, for the detained ones, guilty or not guilty, innocent or brazen criminals. And most importantly, it tells that anybody can subscribe to change and reformation –even the hardest criminal can. Rehabilitation – this is the very purpose of our heavily guarded steel-prisons. The penal system in the country is not punitive but reformatory. It seeks the correction of the inmates, and later on their return to the society as reformed and useful citizens.

Once they are free, they no longer dance to any animating rock music, but to the real music of life as free men. All I can say is God bless and good luck!


Here’s the news from

Dancing inmates’ thrill online viewers

By Jolene Bulambot

CEBU CITY – Wearing orange uniforms, they dance and groove in unison to the musical beat, swaying their bodies and acting out parts like professional performers, and drawing applause from the crowd.

The 1,500 inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) not only entertained spectators and visitors but have also started gaining worldwide popularity through the Internet.

Mastering at least 10 movements, the “dancing inmates” have attracted fans, including those from international media outlets who have seen them perform on the CPDRC quadrangle at the YouTube website.

Their latest dance, “Thriller,” to the beat of a 1980s song popularized by Michael Jackson, has hit a significant mark with more than a million views since the video was posted last week. As of 10 p.m. on July 25, the viewers numbered 1,152,025.

The performance has also been nominated 6,820 times as a favorite and has a rating of 3,708.

Byron Garcia, Cebu provincial consultant on security, posted the video on YouTube on July 18. In the morning of July 20, “Thriller” had already gained 266,000 views. A few hours later, it went up to 400,000.


It was remarkable. I was really surprised. I uploaded the video on Wednesday during my birthday and when I opened it on Friday, I saw the views reach hundreds of thousands,” Garcia said.

He said he was surprised when his sister, Gov. Gwen Garcia, called up from Ormoc City to tell that she saw CNN reporting about the inmates dancing in the Net. “She thought it was the algorithm or the Sister Act dance,” he said.

Aside from the 1,773 comments as of July 25, Garcia could not help but wonder why many people were amazed, considering that “Thriller” was not a final performance but a routine practice for a number on Aug. 1, the 438th founding anniversary of Cebu province.

The video has been consistently nominated as the most viewed, the top most-rated video, top favorite and several other categories, Garcia said.

He said he had been receiving many e-mails from international news organizations that wanted to interview him on the success of “Thriller.” They included Esquire Magazine’s editorial assistant Corey Sobel, US Today’s Janet Kornblum, ABC’s Kristin Pisarcik of New York City, Brazilian News’ Diego Assis and Russ Heller of Blender magazine.

A film agency, The Collective, which distributed “Fast and Furious,” “Monster Ball,” “Speed” and “Angels” movies, wants to buy “Thriller” should it gain five million views in a month’s time, he said.

Routine exercise

I have e-mailed my response to Ryan Holliday of The Collective and I can’t really divulge what it is. As to the international media, I have been telling them that this is a new program, which I think is the first in the country that has been effective because the prisoners themselves voluntarily participate,” he said, adding: “We don’t use force to convince them to do their routine exercise.”

Garcia said the dance was part of the prisoners’ daily exercise under the jail’s rehabilitation program. The daily exercise starts as early as 6:30 a.m. and lasts until 8 a.m. It is repeated in the afternoon, from 4 to 5.

The program started in April last year when Garcia devised a plan to convince prisoners to attend the daily grind. Since the more conventional exercises were considered boring and dull, Garcia said he thought of introducing a new routine that would be entertaining and therapeutic.

The prisoners now are so much different. Before, they were not disciplined. But now they have changed. Our programs included not just the routine exercise. Our livelihood programs proved to be very effective and many of the inmates are happy about what we are doing for them,” Garcia said.

The other dances they presented during the monthly celebrations at the facility included “In the Navy,” “YMCA,” “Nanggigigil Kami,” “Dayang-Dayang,” “Sister Act 1 and 2,” and the Algorithm march.

The last number also gained prominence in the YouTube, generating 414,000 views in eight months. Sister Act 1’s “I Will Follow You” had 43,000 views and Sister Act 2’s “Hail Holy Queen” had 45,000, Garcia said.

Vince Rosales, 27, a professional dancer and guitarist, has been the choreographer since last year. He was tapped by Garcia in April 2006.

At first, Rosales said he was reluctant to accept the job because he would not know how to convince the brusque prisoners to dance.

I was really afraid but at the same time I was really challenged. I think that was the reason I accepted this very unusual job. I was so young at 26 [and]I have to face these people who have been charged with heinous crimes and worse I have to persuade them to dance. It was really nerve-wracking but I made it with Sir Byron’s help,” he said.

Tough adjustments

Rosales had to quit his dance group, Extreme Shock, and band to shift to a new career.

For the first two weeks in his new job, he had to make very tough adjustments but as the months proceeded, he learned to love the prisoners and they have learned to appreciate the therapeutic effect of dancing, he said.

The CPDRC is a multimillion-peso, highly sophisticated facility located in the mountain barangay of Kalunasan in Cebu City. Its main feature is its expensive security surveillance gadgets.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government in Central Visayas had already announced that it would recommend that the facility be recognized as one of the best-run local government facilities in the region.

The CPDRC also has a unique livelihood program, in which inmates are given a chance to earn by making exotic bags for export to Europe and the United States.

The inmates are self-sufficient. They sew and dye their own uniforms, make their own footwear, and sew linens for the district hospitals.

In order to save what they have earned, they were given passbooks so they can deposit and withdraw money through a local government-run cooperative.

With our rehabilitation programs, we hope that we can give what is really due the prisoners. We should not condemn them but help them by providing venues to which they could be rehabilitated and be useful individuals once they get out. With the feedback we are receiving, we are more inspired to give more meaningful programs for the inmates,” Garcia said.

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