Philippines' dancing jail; everyone wants to go inside

CEBU, Philippines Sun Apr 27, 2008 3:50am EDT

1 of 14. Prisoners dance during an exercise program at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) in Cebu City, south of Manila, April 26, 2008. The prisoners' dancing exercises were made famous after a video of them was posted on the Internet last year.

Credit: Reuters/Darren Whiteside

CEBU, Philippines (Reuters Life!) - The central Philippine island of Cebu is renowned as a holiday destination but these days it's the provincial jail not the balmy beaches that's drawing in the visitors.

Inmates at the prison shot to fame last year when a video clip of them gyrating in synch to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" as part of their exercise regime became a You Tube hit. (here).

The dance sensation, complete with zombie movies and involving over 1,000 prisoners in orange jumpsuits, has attracted nearly 15 million online views. And now spectators are flocking to the live show.

"It was great. I had fun. Two thumbs up," said Kathleen, a local university student and one of hundreds of people who visit the jail every month to catch the inmates' grooving in harmony.

From viewing platforms surrounding the exercise ground the audience cheer and dance as if it was a rock concert.

The dance numbers include Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" and a new routine of the Bonnie Tyler song "I Need a Hero" which involves inmates holding portraits of iconic figures such as the Dalai Lama, Pope John Paul II and Mahatma Ghandi.

"They are so good at dancing all the time," said Anne Yzerman, a research student from The Netherlands. "I was really impressed."

At the end of the two hour program, which is held the last Saturday of every month, visitors can have their pictures taken with the prisoners. They can also buy souvenir prison shirts.

Byron Garcia, who oversees the jail and introduced the dance routines last year as a way of improving morale, said the prisoners were enjoying the switch from notoriety to celebrity.

"They are very proud of themselves being watched by the public".

(Reporting by Darren Whiteside; Editing by David Fox)

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