There is one choreography program that provides prison inmates with a sense of pride. If anyone’s ever danced themselves clean, it’s the inmates of Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC). The maximum security prison, located in the Cebu Province of the Philippines, transformed its population into a slick, well-oiled, viral video-producing machine. The dancing Filipino prisoners’ biggest hit, released in 2007, is a performance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” with over 58 million views on Youtube!

Dancing Filipino Prisoners’ First Routine

The program came about when Byron F. Garcia, official security advisor to the Cebu government, started using popular music to encourage participation in marching exercises. Soon, inmates started learning choreography, beginning with The Village People’s “In the Navy” and “Y.M.C.A.”

Participation in the choreography, while compulsory, has reportedly had an overall positive effect on the dancing Filipino prisoners. The program kept inmates from dwelling on regrets and violence and filled them with a sense of pride. The program was such a success that it was adopted by other prison facilities in the Philippines; it even served as the subject of documentaries, musicals, and even films.

Public Dance Recitals

The dancing Filipino prisoners earned such a following that, in 2008, they gave two-hour public performances on the last Saturday of every month. This lasted for two years. Unfortunately, the initiative eventually paused, when the government began to investigate the program for dubious accounting practices. Additionally, Garcia had not been renewed for his position past 2010. After a two-year hiatus, the dancing Filipino prisoners’ final video came out in September of 2012: a rendition of South Korean rapper Psy’s “Gangnam Style.”

Redemption For Inmates, Not Prisons

While the CPDRC may have provided the dancing Filipino prisoners with internet fame, it’s important to note that the CPDRC is still a prison. Amnesty International has reported that Filipino prisons are inhumane due to overcrowding and poor sanitation, ventilation, and food provision. So, while dancing may have provided inmates with a sense of redemption, the prisons themselves have not been redeemed.