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The dancing inmates of Cebu

Updated on April 14, 2014

Ups and downs

Byron took a glance at the sea of prisoners gathered at CPDRC (Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehab Center) compound for their daily exercises and ideas for their moral alleviation formed in his mind. He was amused at the sight. Inspired by the musical British document filmed The Shawshank Redemption, he reinvented ideas one after the other into their hourly workout.

Initially, he let them marched in unison to the tune of a drum. It was good. It was inspiring. Then, gradually, they moved on to dancing Part 2 of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall pop music. Byron was enthusiastic. They were enthusiastic as well. Byron has a high regard and respect for the so-called macho inmates, so he carefully chose for them camp music “In the Navy and YMCA”. They were pleased. They cooperated and danced to their heart’s content.

Byron’s efforts, however, did not all pass public approval. The Algorithm March, his first uploaded prisoner choreography flopped, but his second attempt was a resounding success. His remake of Michael Jackson’s original “Thriller” music video was a hit.


Teacher-Choreographers Vince Rosales and Gwen Laydor provide expertise and glamour in the total makeup of the rehab program. Honed by experienced, they knew how to separate the grain from the chaff. This means sorting out in subtle ways, prisoners according to their unique abilities to dance. The select few would handle more sophisticated routines while the majority will do with much simpler ones.

Prisoners Crisanto Nierre and Wenjiel Resane are big names in this dance troupe. Nierre mimicks Michael Jackson while the gay Resane his girlfriend. As such they’re the most highlighted in videos and are popular among You Tube fans. Cebu Inmates Thriller places No. 5 in Time Magazine’s top 10 list.

Cardinal Vidal honored

During the celebration of the Prison Awareness Month on Oct. 6, 2007 held at the provincial prison ground, the dancing inmates presented Cardinal Archbishop Ricardo Vidal who was guest with 6 dances. “It was a marvelous show of discipline, If only they had practiced such discipline in their lives, they won’t be here”, said Cardinal Vida

Surprise show

During the 438th city’s founding anniversary celebration, about 20 inmates volunteered to perform a surprise show in front of the capitol, a medley of Thriller, Jump and Radio Gaga. The participants did a touching performance that it moved the audience, including the governor and provincial officials, resulting in the inclusion and grant of mid-year bonus for 1500 inmates at P1,000 each incentive for good behavior

Governor's visit

Provincial Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, during her October birthday, paid the prisoners a visit. She was honored with their dance performances to the tunes of Together in Electric Dreams and Ice, Ice Baby.

April of 2008, the prisoners live performances were opened to visitors who were allowed to have their pictures taken with the prisoners and buy souvenir prison shirts. Flamboyant lead dancer of the jailhouse troupe Egan Torrecampo gained celebrity status in his own right


Hot on the heels of Jackson’s death in 2009, one thousand five hundred CPDRC inmates did a sorrowful tribute of selected Jackson’s songs in memory of their late idol. They performed majestically in front of hundreds of spectators at the prison ground despite short notice of Jackson’s death that Saturday, June 27.

Appeal and a quotation

The Queen Medley, a mix of 8 Queen songs notably includes the performance of popular transvestite prisoner Wenjiel Resane dressed as a ballerina performing a major routine. This 8-minute long group performance ends with the appeal “Peace to mankind” and a quotation from Byron F. Garcia: “If we make life like a living hell for these fallen angels, then we might just be turning out devils once they are released and re-integrated into society”.

Performance of Gang leader Arabo

Grease Lightning was performed on November 28, 2009 on the third anniversary of a shooting incident between feuding gangs. One of the surviving gang leaders Arabo was privileged to lead the dance group. It was his farewell performance before flying to Manila’s Muntinlupa prison to serve 90 years life sentences for a triple murder he had committed.

Launching of Jackson's DVD 'This is it"

In connection with the worldwide launching of Jackson’s DVD titled THIS IS IT by Sony Pictures Worldwide, Jackson choreographer Travis Payne and 2 top dancers of Michael Jackson’s This Is It Show, Daniel Celebre and Dres Reid, personally sailed to Cebu to teach the inmates how to dance “They Don’t Care About Us” with an intro from ‘Bad’ and a tribute to African-American civil rights activist Martin Luther King. After 2 rigid days of rehearsals, the Cebu inmates together with Payne Travis and company all clad in This Is It tribute black T-shirts performed the dance at the jail ground on January 19, 2010. A video shoot was taken of the performance to form part of said Sony Pictures This Is It DVD.

Governor suspends program

The program took a recess in February 2010 upon order of Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia. Proper investigation of donations received in favor of the CPDRC program was to be made. Choreographer Gwen Lador resigned from her job. Byron Garcia’s contract as Capitol’s security consultant expires that year. And media talks about bad relationship between Byron F. Garcia and his sister-governor Gendolyn Garcia circulates. Byron was assigned official security advisor to the Cebu City government as head of the prison by Governor Garcia. Meantime, she let the Provincial Agriculture office took charge of the reform with her instruction that planting of crops inside the compound be intensified, instead of dancing. She said the dance performances were overshadowing the general rehabilitation program.

Public outcry

A public outcry asking for the resumption of the inmates’ performances sounded. Cebu Capitol consultant Rory Jon Sepulveda has assured that the rehabilitation by way of dancing of the inmates has continued. The public viewing however has been suspended. Sepulveda said that the public performances will resume once the mechanism for full accountability on donations are in place. Also, as a sharp difference from earlier days, beginning March 2010, the dancing has become optional. However, almost 50% of the prisoners said they would not take part anymore after suspension of public performances. The Governor had already sought the services of the original “Thriller” choreographer, Vince Rosales, to teach the dance routines inside the jail facility for the inmates.

There were criticisms made. Prison rehabilitation experts and human rights advocates claim that the enforced dance routines are not proper rehabilitation but exploitation. Some prisoners alleged violation have been committed against those who refuse to join in.

Gangnam style marks the program's comeback

Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012, marks the comeback of the prisoners after the dances were suspended by Gov. Garcia. This time they rendered their own version of Korean superstar PSY’s “Gangnam Style”, a Guinness World Record Holder for the “Most liked in You Tube”. Dressed in orange suits with the exception of lead dancers in black, the inmates thrilled their guests with this finale number for about 4 minutes despite the heavy downpour.

Gangnam style had been interpreted by many as poking fun at the lavish lifestyle in South Korea's Gangnam district.

Bombo Radyo reported one thousand plus spectators saw and cheered the dancing prisoners ,who also danced to other hits like This is It, We Are the Champion, Billy Jean, Do the Hustle, Ben, Fire, Jump before dancing "Gangnam Style" their finale.


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