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Philippines Prison Suspends Thriller Dancers

On February 24, 2012, guards at a maximum-security facility in the Philippines were so spooked following an incident involving a prisoner with a homemade weapon that they temporarily suspended the prison’s dance troupe, which became internationally famous for its 2007 choreographed homage to Michael Jackson’s hit song, “Thriller.” [See: PLN, Oct. 2007, p.42].

According to prison officials, guards halted a near-riot in the quadrangle of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC), where the prisoners were rehearsing. The dance troupe typically includes over 1,000 prisoners.

Gwendolyn Garcia, Cebu’s then-governor, told reporters that prisoner Carillo Balueza, 26, brandished an improvised ice pick and was mobbed by fellow prisoners and suffered minor injuries. A subsequent search turned up “other sharp objects.”

“We will see if the prisoners are ready to behave in an orderly and disciplined manner, then we will resume,” Garcia said. “We will again allow some of these privileges. These are privileges, not rights.” Once a month, members of the public are allowed into the facility to watch the dance performance.

Curiously, other troubling events at CPDRC – including the 2011 beating death of a prisoner and two escapes – didn’t shut down the dance troupe. But the ice pick incident, which Garcia called “minor,” prompted a lockdown at the 1,600-bed facility and the suspension of visitation rights, communal meals and dance rehearsals.

The “Thriller” video made the Cebu prisoners so famous that Travis Payne, Michael Jackson’s choreographer, visited CPDRC in 2011 to record footage for the DVD release of Jackson’s “This Is It” concert film. A YouTube video of the Cebu prisoners’ “Thriller” performance has generated 52 million views; they have also performed dances to a variety of other songs, including “I Need a Hero” and “Gangnam Style.”

The CPDRC prisoner dance troupe stars in a recent movie, “Dance of the Steel Bars,” featuring Irish actor Patrick Bergin and a number of Filipino actors, that was released in the Philippines in June 2013.

Sources: Cebu Daily News,, Philippine Daily Inquirer

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