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Cebu Dancing Inmates Videos are a series of dance performances by a group of prisoners held at the maximum security Cebu Provinicial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) in Cebu Province, Philippines. Produced and uploaded by the institute’s security advisor Byron F. Garcia, the inmates’ dance videos garnered worldwide attention in July 2007 after their performance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” went viral on YouTube.
Byron Garcia first introduced choreography in March 2005 as an alternative to morning exercises and a form of inmate rehabilitation at the CPDRC. Garcia uploaded the first CPDRC video to YouTube on October 1st, 2006, featuring inmates doing the Algorithm March (shown below, left), a Japanese dance fad based on the educational children’s television program PythagoraSwitch. He uploaded several more videos to his channel but they all went relatively unwatched until July 17th, 2007, when he uploaded the inmates’ choreographed version of Michael Jackson’s 1983 hit “Thriller” (shown below, right). As of August 2012, the Thriller video has 51.1 million views.
The Thriller video was first shared on Gawker on July 20th, 2007, three days after it was uploaded. A week later, BBC News and NBC News both shared the video, which led to the prisoners earning a World Record title for the most inmates simultaneously dancing. Over the next seven months, the video was shared on Fox News, ABC News, GigaOm, CNN and the New York Times. The inmates were invited to perform at several occasions outside of the jail including a show at the Cebu Capitol. By April 2008, an overhead platform was built around the exercise ground where tourists could watch the monthly performances.
Appearance in This Is It
Following Michael Jackson’s death on June 25th, 2009, CPDRC inmates worked with Travis Payne, associate director of the documentary This Is It, on a dance specifically choreographed for the group’s tribute to Jackson’s 1996 song “They Don’t Care About Us.” After two days of training and practice in January 2010, CPDRC prisoners, along with Payne and two other dancers from the cancelled This Is It tour, performed the dance and January 19th. The choreography was later featured in the This Is It DVD and the footage was uploaded onto YouTube on January 22nd.
In February 2010, the program was put on hold and Garcia’s contract was not renewed, a decision that was met by a public outcry demanding the resumption of the dancing program for the inmates. In response, Cebu Capitol consultant Rory Jon Sepulveda explained that the dancing program will remain an option for exercise, but the public viewing will be discontinued. According to Cebu Daily News, nearly 50 of the prisoners said that they would not take part since the suspension of public performances. During the run of Garcia’s program, it was reported that violent crimes within the prison lessent and inmates overall health had improved.
In April 2010, an interactive web musical titled Prison Dancer was announced, combining a 12 episode webseries with a stage musical. Their official Facebook page launched that month, with their YouTube channel going up two months later. Written by Romeo Candido and Carmen de Jesus, the show focuses on the lives of six fictional inmates at CPDRC who are coping with their videos becoming viral sensations. The first episode of the web series was uploaded on March 6th, 2012, featuring choice points making the show into an interactive game.
On July 20th 2012, the first of six live Prison Dancer performances was held as part of the 2012 New York Musical Theatre Festival. The live performances won three awards as part of the festival, including Excellence in Choreography, Outstanding Ensemble Performance and Oustanding Individual Performance for actor Jeigh Madjus, who played the prisoners’ choreographer, a crossdresser named Ruperto “Lola” Poblador.
Film Adaptation: Dance of the Steel Bars
On June 12th, 2013, a 98-minute feature film titled “Dance of the Steel Bars” starring CPDRC inmates was released in the Philippines. Loosely based on the real-life reforms that elevated the Cebu prisoners into global online fame, the story follows an American citizen who arrives in Cebu after he is wrongly accused of murder and the camaraderie that grows between him and the native inmate population as they learn to dance (see trailer below).
This riveting feature film about redemption follows Frank Parish (Patrick Bergin), a retired US fireman and philanthropist who finds himself wrongly accused of murder and jailed in the Philippines. Stuck in prison, Frank was beginning to lose faith in everything he believed in until he becomes friends with Mando (Dingdong Dantes), a convicted murderer who denies his passion for dancing just to prove his masculinity and Allona (Joey Paras), a transsexual who tries to contribute to prison reforms by teaching his fellow inmates dance exercises. They get involved in a tricky struggle between the positive changes initiated by the new warden (Ricky Davao) and the corrupt system that weighs down the inmates’ chance to become better individuals. Frank finds himself caught in an intricate web of lies and must choose between concealing what he knows to keep himself out of danger or to help his fellow inmates by revealing the truth. Will he remain on the sidelines as an observer, or will he dance the dance of the steel bars?
The film, which stars Irish actor Patrick Bergin as the American inmate “Frank Parish,” Filipino actor Dingdong Dantes as convicted murderer and fellow inmate “Mando” and Filipino veteran actor Ricky Davao as the new warden of the prison, will be also distributed in Asia, the Middle East and the United States, according to the Reuters.
New York Times – Dance is part of rehabilitation at Philippine prison