UPDATE: So what happened to the ‘Dancing Inmates’?

Before Black Pink sensationalized the “Kill this Love” dance craze, a rather unique group of individuals hit the top spot in Youtube and received worldwide attention for their rendition of Michael Jackson’s hit “Thriller” – the dancing inmates of Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center. Such video went viral in 2007 and ranked fifth on the Time Magazine’s “Top 10 Most Popular Viral Videos” of the year. Because of this, the prisoners began to hold public performances which include their performances of the renowned music of Black Eyed Peas, Queen, and even K-Pop songs such of Wonder Girls, Super Junior, 2NE1, and Psy. Twelve years, after, what happened to the dancing inmates?

Cebu Dancing Inmates thriller

Photo: Bullit Marquez/Associated Press

How the Dancing Inmates began?

In 2004, Governor Gwendolyn Garcia became deeply troubled with issues involving the 2,000 inmates contained in the regional prison of Cebu. Cases such of corruption, smuggling, and other illegal activities have become so rampant, that most of the time these prisoners were caught in riot. This then prompted a new disciplinary culture that aimed to strengthen the correction system that would promote reformation and renewal of offenders through a responsive rehabilitation – the implementation of fitness routines that involved marching to music. This new disciplinary management was spearheaded by the governor’s brother, Byron Garcia. From then on, the inmates began their dance routines to the sounds of “Another Brick in the Wall”, “In the Navy”, and “YMCA. Byron Garcia started posting clips of these dancing inmates which unbelievably became a total internet sensation. Their “Thriller” video received over ten million hits on Youtube in 2008 and 58 million as of this year.  In an instant, these prisoners in Cebu gained the attention not only on national media but of the internationals as well. In fact, in 2008 Anderson Cooper of CNN broadcasted an episode of these Dancing Prisoners while in 2016, the Pope’s envoy, Myanmar Cardinal Charles Maung Bo paid a special visit to the dancing inmates during the IEC Congress.

Sadly, the public presentations were then put to halt by the Cebu governor in March 2012 when some inmates were almost involved in a riot triggered by an inmate who’s mobbed by another inmate caught branding an improvised ice pick. Nonetheless, in September of the same month, the dancing routine was restored by the governor as per suggestion by the consultant on planning and development and jail matters, Atty. Jose Ma. Gastardo. The choreographer then began preparing modern dances for their regular presentation every last Saturday of the month.


So, what happened to the Dancing inmates?

While CPDRC was hailed by the international media for its unique rehabilitation program, we all know that the prison is not always about singing and dancing. With the government’s strengthened program against drugs, more and more inmates were housed in CPDRC. In 2017, the number of inmates almost doubled from 1,600 to 3,000. Because of overcrowding, there were 10 inmates who were reported to die in less than two months because of cardiac arrest and pneumonia. There were other cases that the Consultant on Jail Management and Warden have to attend to which resulted to the cancellation of the inmate’s monthly performance – like the escape of an inmate, warning shot fired by the former inmate Marco Toral to the gambling prisoners, and confiscation of laptop and cellphones from inmate Eileen Ontong who’s facing charges for human trafficking. Last year, the management of CPDRC stopped accepting prisoners for their lack of space and accommodation for new detainees.

Just like any other dance craze, the sensation of the “Dancing Inmates” died years after. Nevertheless, the inmates are still encouraged to participate in their dancing rehabilitation program and they are still able to hold public performances on a per request basis.