Prison Reform Through Dance

 inmates in The Philippines dancing

Inmates doing their choreography to Thriller

Dance has an amazing capacity for healing the soul.  One of the best examples I know illistrates how dance is transforming the lives of Phillipine prisoners through the work of an inovative warden.  If you are as impressed by this story as I am, keep your eye out for the movie, being filmed right now!   Here is the story, curtisy of  Wikipedia:

“Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center is a maximum security prison in Cebu, in the Cebu Province of thePhilippines. The center is run by Byron F. Garcia, and its inmates are either facing trial or are serving sentences for crimes ranging from shoplifting to murder and rape.  In 2007, more than 300 of the inmates were facing murder charges.Garcia initiated the idea of exercising as an enjoyable way of keeping the prisoners mentally and physically fit. “While the goal is to keep the body fit in order to keep the mind fit, such may not happen if it is done in a manner deemed unpleasurable”, Garcia said.Considering music to be “the language of the soul”, Garcia added it to the prisoner’s workout regime. Garcia also wanted the music workouts to be a way in which to break down gang factions amongst prison inmates. Melita Thomeczeck, the Philippine’s deputy consulate general in New York, suspected that the warden added the music in order to take detainee’s minds off of other matters.One of the first songs the prisoners worked with was Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”. Garcia had them march to the music as a bid to increase participation in exercise.Other early musical choices included “In the Navy” and “Y.M.C.A.” by the Village People. The Village People songs were chosen so that macho inmates “wouldn’t be offended by being asked to dance”.

For Filipinos, music and dancing is said to be a way of life. Natives of the Philippines are reported to have a tendency to “sing and dance their way out of even the most complicated situations”.Thomeczeck stated, “The Filipinos love music and they love to sing and dance. Whatever they are in a natural way, they can continue that habit in prison.” Despite other colleagues’ enthusiasm about the dancing, chief administrator Patrick Rubio of the Directorate of Operations within the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology was worried about the volume of inmates dancing, as CPDRC was undermanned. Despite inmate dancing not being prohibited by the center’s Operations Manual, Rubio thought of the dance as a disaster waiting to happen. “As a jail officer, I got worried when I saw it”, Rubio commented. The inmates were not fond of the idea either, pelting a visiting choreographer with slippers the first time he arrived at the prison.Prisoners eventually agreed to dance, but admitted that the routines took awhile to master. “It was difficult at first, but eventually we inmates got used to it”, inmate Mario Benito revealed.The program began as an experiment and, after six months, prison chiefs concluded that it was a successful one.”

And I absolutely LOVE this quote from Crisanto Nierre, the inmate who played Michael Jackson in the Thriller number.

“I hope that all the people who see us will be happy in knowing that we, despite being prisoners, we were able to do this. Before the dancing, our problems were really heavy to bear. Dancing takes our minds away from our problems. Our bodies became more healthy. As for the judges, they may be impressed with us, seeing that we are being rehabilitated and this could help our case. We are being rehabilitated in a good way.”

Here they are dancing to Michael Jackson’s This Is It – They Don’t Care About Us[embedplusvideo height=”388″ width=”640″ standard=”″ vars=”ytid=mKtdTJP_GUI&width=640&height=388&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep5123″ /]

They look like professional dancers, don’t they?  Years ago one of my students asked a member of a college dance troupe how they got to be so good.  “Well” he replied, “we have Bill Borgita (their teacher) and nothing else to do.”  There’s nothing like passion combined with nothing else to do for creating excellence!


By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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