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Filipino inmates in `Thriller’ video stage tribute

by AP writer Teresa Cerojano

The Filipino inmates who shot to global fame with a YouTube video of their “Thriller” dance (July 2007) swayed and stomped again today, Saturday, June 27, in a behind-bars tribute to their idol, Michael Jackson.

After being told of Jackson’s death Thursday in Los Angeles, the 1,500 inmates at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center hit the exercise yard, practicing for nine hours Friday night – and into the wee hours of Saturday morning – for the show. They took breaks only to eat or when it rained, said professional choreographer Gwendolyn Lador, hired by the prison to teach the inmates the dance.

Filipino Prisoners dance to pop tunes such as "Thriller" and "Soulja Boy" as part of their physical fitness

Filipino Prisoners dance to pop tunes such as “Thriller” and “Soulja Boy” as part of their physical fitness

Inmate Alfredo Gaballo, 52, says Jackson “inspired us, so we are all sad about his death.”

Crisanto Nieri, 38, was feeling a little extra stress. He danced Jackson’s part in “Thriller.”

“Even as a kid, he was already my idol,” said Nieri, who is serving seven years on drug charges. “I am happy that our video became famous, but I feel some pressure to perform well.”

A crowd of 700 Cebuanos and foreign tourists watched the performance from a second-floor corridor, swaying to the music and applauding as the inmates, dressed in orange prison T-shirts and sweat pants, stomped and clapped in unison in the hilltop prison, behind thick stone walls topped by electrified razor wire.

Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video was filmed in the historic Coconut Grove Bahamian Cemetery in Miami, Florida

Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video was filmed in the historic Coconut Grove Bahamian Cemetery in Miami, Florida

Other numbers included “Ben,” “I’ll Be There” and “We Are the World.” The inmates then held up a 5-by-10 foot (1.5-by-3 meter) tarpaulin showing Michael Jackson holding a sword with his name written below it.

Others waved the flags of the Philippines and other nations.

Before the show, the performers dedicated a prayer to Jackson’s family.

“I was sad because one of the songs of Michael Jackson, `Thriller,’ made us famous around the world,” said Francis Mercader, 36, who has spent a year in detention while on trial for drug charges.

Byron Garcia, the Cebu provincial security consultant who came up with the idea of adding synchronized dancing to poorly attended exercise sessions, said he was surprised by the popularity of the 2007 video – one of more than a dozen inmate dance numbers he has posted on YouTube.

“Thriller” has attracted 24.3 million hits since it was posted two years ago, with nearly a million of them in the 24 hours since news of Jackson’s death spread.

The inmates “consider Michael Jackson as a god here,” Garcia said. “If not for Michael Jackson, they would not have this international recognition.”

“The fame brought them back their self-esteem,” he told reporters. “So that’s why we have these public performances.”

 

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