Dancing inmates back

·5 min read

TOURISTS and even ordinary Cebuanos can soon watch the live performances of the world-famous dancing inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) again.

Despite the heavy rain, around 800 inmates took center stage as they gracefully danced to different songs in front of Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and other high-ranking government officials in Central Visayas on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022.

Garcia said they plan to bring back the regular public viewing of the inmate’s performances after it was halted in 2016.

The governor said they are still coordinating with the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology for the schedule of the performances which the general public can witness.

Garcia added that the provincial government is already preparing a tourism package that will include the dancing inmates.

“We are still preparing the (tour) package itself because we have to adopt... Sa present circumstances and atoa pud tan-awon you know (the) lessons that we have learned adtong primero aron atoa pa ning ma enhance puhon sa mga turista,” said Garcia.

(Under the present circumstances, we need to look at, you know, the lessons we have learned from our previous staging, so that we can enhance this offering for our tourists.)

Garcia also mentioned that they will schedule certain dates when the family members of the dancing inmates can also watch the performances in CPDRC.

The persons deprived of liberty were taught their dance moves by Dancesport Team Cebu led by renowned Cebuano choreographer Edward Hayco.

According to Hayco, the inmates had been practicing three hours every day for three weeks just for their comeback performance on Friday.

“We are very impressed with their dancing skills because one thing is your skill but another thing is your eagerness, passion, and love of the gift of dancing,” said Hayco.

The theme of their dance presentation aims to create an impact on the international community about the talents of the dancing inmates and the Cebuanos in general.

“The music has to have an international flavor and energy. We want to shout out to the world what Cebu is. We are proud of what we are doing. We are proud of our inmates and we want to project that to the world,” Hayco said.

Savings and skills

After the performance, the Cebu Provincial Government donated kits containing basic commodities as tokens for the inmates of CPDRC.

The Cooperative Bank of Cebu (CBC) and Technical Education And Skills Development Authority (Tesda) also allowed the inmates to experience their services such as opening a savings account and availing of free skills training.

Passbooks were given to 107 inmates so they could already start depositing in their savings account in CBC.

The governor said this initiative will allow inmates to deposit money that they can earn through donations from the public who will witness their dance performances.

There was also a ceremonial distribution of Tesda scholarship certificates for free skills training in bread and pastry production and hilot massage.

The leader of the inmates known as alias Tako (name withheld for privacy) said they are happy about the rebirth of the dance performances.

“Nangandam mi og maayo. Nagpasalamat mi sa governor nga nabalik among sayaw sa mga binalanggo,” said Tako. (We prepared well for this. We thank the governor for resuming the dance performances of the inmates.)

Tako added that before, there were around 3,000 dancing inmates, but many had already been freed and most of them were very good dancers.

According to Tako, no one forced them to dance since it is a form of exercise and dancing can also entertain them while they are locked in prison.

When it began

The dancing inmates was the brainchild of Byron Garcia, the governor’s brother, during his stint as Capitol consultant on security over 10 years ago.

Dancing made the CPDRC inmates an international phenomenon on the video-sharing website YouTube after they danced to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” drawing national and foreign media to the CPDRC to cover the 1,600 inmates the jail had then.

The video of their “Thriller” routine, uploaded by Byron on YouTube on July 17, 2007, landed fifth on Time magazine’s top 10 most viewed videos on the Internet in 2007.

Other tunes the inmates danced to were “Electric Dreams,” “I Will Follow Him” and “Hail Holy Queen” of the movies “Sister Act” and “Sister Act 2,” “Ice, Ice Baby,” “Cannon in D,” “Rico Mambo,” “You Can’t Touch This,” “Gloria” and “Crank That.”

Because so many people wanted to see the inmates dance, Byron scheduled every last Saturday of the month CPDRC’s open house when the public could watch the inmates dance.

However, amid innuendos that certain personalities might have benefited from the fame of the dancing inmates, and pending the institution of a better system to account for the donations received for the performances, the governor issued on Jan. 28, 2010, a memorandum stating that all CPDRC-related activities would now be handled by her as jailer.

With the memorandum, Byron bid his inmates goodbye. In February 2010, the governor did not renew Byron’s contract as Capitol consultant on security.

Byron was credited for the dancing inmates at a time CPDRC prisoners were known for starting riots. The dancing was instituted as a form of exercise for the inmates. He first uploaded videos of their dance performances in 2006.

In December 2011, during the signing of a sisterhood agreement between Cebu Province and Busan, South Korea, Busan City Mayor Nam-Sik Hur expressed interest in replicating the program of Cebu’s dancing inmates after Capitol arranged a special viewing of the dance performance of the inmates.

In the same month, then tourism secretary Ramon Jimenez called the dancing inmates one of the “most incredible tourist attractions on earth,” after witnessing a presentation at the CPDRC.

The once-a-month shows, offered free of charge to the public, continued under Garcia’s successor as governor, Hilario Davide III, in 2013 until 2016, when issues of overcrowding, smuggling in of cellphones and laptops, and the plying of the illegal drug trade inside the provincial jail erupted.