One Choreographer, 1500 Criminal Lives Changed

Cebu Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines, once considered the most dangerous prison on the island, is now an inspiration to institutions--and dance teachers--around the world.

Overseer Byron Garcia, who had no previous prison management experience, began experimenting with dance as part of the morning exercise routine. Inmates facing life sentences for drug dealing, rape and mass murder now find themselves united in a communal dance experience. And, over 20 million YouTube hits later, the prisoners are globally famous to boot. “Deep within us there is a will to change,” says inmate Leo Suico, who is accused of mass murder. “[Dance is] the biggest thing that changed us, because it occupied our time. We have no time to think of the problems of our case.”

Amidst a sea of orange uniforms, choreographer Gwen Lador, standing less than five feet tall, is the mastermind behind the dance moves. “I didn’t want to do it, because I was scared,” she says. “And then one of [the prisoners] said, ‘Madam, I’ll help you with whatever you need.’ So my fear vanished.”

Lador teaches the 1,500 inmates everyday, sometimes for five hours a day, starting at 6 am. (The challenge, she states, is not teaching them dance, but teaching them musical coordination.) Introducing dance to these men has turned their heads from the numbing power of drugs to the unifying, endorphin-enhancing power of dance. It seems as if all they needed was someone to believe they could do something, and slowly they danced their way into a second chance at life. “They no longer feel like lowly criminals; they feel like celebrity criminals,” Garcia says.

The inmates have learned popular dance combinations like “YMCA,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Sister Act” and “Soulja Boy,” but their most famous, with over 16 million YouTube hits to date, is “Thriller.” Crisanto Niere, the star of the video, says his son used to be ashamed of him, but, “now when he goes to school, he tells everyone the dancer on the internet is his father. It makes me proud that my son is proud of me."

Garcia and Lador shrug their shoulders at the United States prison officials who said that dance couldn’t work in prisons. Not only was it an effective exercise routine, it also unified the men, rehabilitated addictions, lifted animosity and produced friendships. When filming “Thriller,” Michael Jackson probably never imagined what kind of an impact the work could have. It’s truly a modern-day rain dance, with the power to renew and heal, and when the clouds come rolling in, wash away the destruction of lives distorted by aggression.

Check out Byron Garcia’s YouTube page with all of the original Cebu inmate video postings. For more information about how dance changed the lives of these prisoners, view the Journeyman Pictures documentary.

 

Teachers Trending
Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy. Photo courtesy Dance With Me

Listening to Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy riff together makes it crystal-clear why each has mastered the art of partnering in the ballroom—they've long been doing this dance in real life as brothers and business partners.

Along with their "Dancing with the Stars" pedigree (and a combined three mirror-ball trophies between them), Maks and Val (and their father, Sasha) also run Dance With Me, a dance company hosting six ProAm Dancesport competitions annually and running 14 brick-and-mortar studio locations across the U.S.

Last year, the pair launched an online component, Dance & Co. The online video platform offers beginner through advanced instruction in not only ballroom but an array of other styles, as well as dance fitness classes from HIIT to yoga to strength training. "DWTS" fans will recognize such familiar faces as Peta Murgatroyd, Jenna Johnson, Sharna Burgess and Emma Slater, along with Maks and Val themselves.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
@jayplayimagery, courtesy Kerollis

In the spring of 2012, Barry Kerollis was abruptly forced into treating his career as a small business. Having just moved cross-country to join BalletX, he got injured and was soon let go.

"I'd only ever danced with big companies before," the now-freelance dance-teacher-choreographer-podcaster recalls. "That desperation factor drove me to approach freelancing with a business model and a business plan."

As Kerollis acknowledges, getting the business of you off the ground ("you" as a freelance dance educator, that is) can be filled with unexpected challenges—even for the most seasoned of gigging dancers. But becoming your own CEO can make your work–life balance more sustainable, help you make more money, keep you organized, and get potential employers to offer you more respect and improved working conditions. Here's how to get smart now about branding, finances and other crucial ways to tell the dance world that you mean business.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Courtesy Oleson

American dance educator Shannon Oleson was teaching recreational ballet and street-dance classes in London when the pandemic hit. As she watched many of her fellow U.S. friends pack up and return home from their international adventures, she made the difficult choice to stick with her students (as well as her own training—she was midway through her MFA at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance).

Despite shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders, she was able to maintain a teaching schedule that kept her working with her dancers through Zoom, as well as lead some private, in-home acro classes following government guidelines. But keeping rec students interested in the face of pandemic fatigue hasn't been easy.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.