CEBU, Philippines–A video of Filipino prisoners dancing to hits like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in bright orange uniforms has become an instant worldwide hit on the video sharing website YouTube.
Theshot in a provincial jail on the central Philippine island of Cebu show some of the 1,600 inmates dancing in a routine to the Jackson classic and has attracted more than 1.9 million views on YouTube.
The website also shows routines for Queen’s “Radio Gaga” and music from the hit move “Sister Act.”
The success of the videos, which see dozens of orange-suited men lined up in neat rows, dancing in synchronised fashion, has surprised the men who started the practice as a form of physical exercise.
The dancing, held twice daily in jail, was the brainchild of special security consultant Byron Garcia who also put the videos on YouTube.
He said they began the dancing routines last year after he noticed that very few of the 1,600 prisoners were taking part in the callisthenics and push-ups that the jail was offering for their exercise.
Garcia was also looking for something to inculcate discipline in the prisoners who had been jailed for crimes ranging from murder to drug trafficking.
Garcia said they first started off by having the prisoners do military marches — but to the tune of the Village People’s disco hits, “YMCA” and “In the Navy” and Pink Floyd’s “the Wall.”
“I thought it would be easier to communicate with them using music,” said Garcia.
“When they perfected the marching, we started the more difficult routines,” even hiring a choreographer for them, says Garcia.
Vince Rosales, a former provincial capital employee who also manages a dance group, recalls that “I was really scared during my first week there. The inmates would not listen to me. They even threw slippers at me. They complained that they do not like to dance.”
Garcia however laid down the law and compelled the prisoners to take part and eventually, they accepted it.
Rosales says he has even received thanks from elderly and infirm inmates for devising dance exercises for them.
The “Thriller” dance that has become so popular on YouTube actually took a month to perfect, he recalls. They also have dance routines based on local pop songs which have also been added to YouTube.
Garcia however says the real benefits of the program are not its popularity but its effect on the prisoners.
“Do you see discipline, coordination, synchronization? The high morale and high self esteem. If you watch the video, you can see discipline at work,” he said.