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Filipino prisoners dance their way to the big screen

Dance of the Steel Bars will be loosely based on Filipino inmates who scored a viral hit in 2007 with their recreation of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. 


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Posted on Jun 17, 2013   Updated on Jun 1, 2021, 1:21 pm CDT

In 2007, a YouTube video featuring a horde of Filipino inmates who perform a well-choreographed version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video became one of the year’s biggest viral hits. It has scored more than 50 million views to date and has received extensive news coverage. Almost six years after that video, its incarcerated stars are making their big screen debut in Dance of the Steel Bars, a film loosely based on their proclivity for dance.

Dance of the Steel Bars is actually a fictional movie about a wrongly imprisoned American and the bond he forms with a fellow inmate based around their shared love of dancing. I’m thinking it’s somewhere between The Shawshank Redemption and Step Up. Director Cesar Apolinario shot the film at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center, home of the dancing inmates. “This film talks about redemption, about brotherhood,” he said. “I did not only see them as brilliant dancers, but they are actually brilliant actors.”

As it turns out, the popular video is more than just a one-off viral hit at the Cebu jail. Instead, dancing has become a programmed activity meant to increase fitness, discipline, and camaraderie. Several more routines have found their way to YouTube. Most recently the inmates discovered the Harlem Shake. They have also moved their bodies to (surprise, surprise) “Gangnam Style.”

The popular YouTube dances seem to be working wonders at the Cebu jail. It seems like a fairly heartwarming story, and I’m sure Dance of the Steel Bars‘ creators hope the film can get at a similar feeling.

By Sam Gutelle | Screengrab via YouTube

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*First Published: Jun 17, 2013, 6:00 am CDT