CEBU CITY – More than 1,500 prisoners at the Cebu Detention and Rehabilitation Center reprised their signature Thriller dance tribute on Saturday June 27 in honour of pop star Michael Jackson, who died on June 25.
Dressed in orange prison uniforms, the inmates danced under a blazing sun in a massive display of precision choreography for an audience of about 500 local civilians and journalists. Prison Supervisor Byron Garcia organized the free performance when he heard the news of Jackson’s death.
“I’m so proud of them,” said Garcia. “They got the dance exactly right.”
Several inmates invited people from the audience to dance with them during the show.
“I never thought I would ever find myself dancing with a prisoner,” one excited local said.
Prisoners rehearsed for 10 hours the previous day, finally stopping at 3 a.m. to rest before the show.
Four Jackson numbers were part of the show including the prisoners’ now famous 15 minute recreation of Jackson’s monster hit video of 1983, Thriller, which became an Internet phenomenon two years ago when it was uploaded to the YouTube video sharing web site. The Thriller tribute video has attracted over 26 million viewers since 2007.
“He is like a God to them,” said Garcia. “It is Michael’s music that gives them international recognition.
The prison has since posted other dance videos, such as Van Halen’s Jump and Queen’s Radio Ga Ga.
“I am really sad, because Michael Jackson is my idol,” said an inmate official identified as one of the primary dance coaches. “Filipinos are so Westernized and that’s why lots of us loved Michael.”
The dance program was instituted at the prison in 2007 as a means of rehabilitating prisoners in a facility once notorious for its gang problem. All able-bodied prisoners must participate or face losing privileges, mainly conjugal visits.
According to Garcia, the dancing takes up to five hours of each prisoner’s day, but he rejected claims that he is abusing their rights. He said it gives them a new sense of worth and confidence, and frees them from their violent tendencies.
“It makes them work together, it makes them exercise and they learn self-esteem,” he said.
Michael Jackson died on Thursday, June 25 in Los Angeles, less than two weeks before the first in a series of comeback concerts in London, England.