September 25, 2023



In this prison in Portugal, inmates dance to escape

2 min read

Forgetting, even just for a moment, the difficult condition of being a prisoner. That’s the goal of this dance workshop organised by Catarina Câmara.

Twice a week, the Linhó prison’s chapel near Lisbon becomes a space where inmates are encouraged to express their emotions through dance.

Inside this high-security prison, six inmates are moving gracefully around in a series of improvised dance moves, clutching props and following the rhythm of the music.

Outside, the high walls are lined with barbed wire and a loudspeaker barks instructions for prisoners.

Changing the mindset

“Dancing in prison is a subversive act. It is a gesture of rebellion, but constructive rebellion. It is not making a lot of noise,” explains Catarina Câmara, dancer and choreographer of the workshop.

She hopes the classes — part of a social dance project that began in April 2019 — can help change the mindset of some of the young prisoners.

According to Câmara, the feedback has been very positive: “The inmates, while dancing, feel something special in them. And it is this that allows us to understand what is ingrained in them. This is what I call creative disorganisation,” she says.

A sort of escape

The workshop not only prepares inmates for social reintegration, but it also allows them to take their minds off their problems, a sort of escape.

“When you come here, it’s like you’re not in prison anymore. You feel like you are with people on the street, you feel free, and when you start dancing you forget that you are a prisoner,” says Manuel Antunes, a Linhó prison inmate.

Fábio Tavares, another inmate and participant also praised the initiative: “With dance, we give more value to life, we give more value to the other. You learn to respect others, to protect yourself from negative emotions and to get rid of them because it is these negative emotions that hurt me and those around me. You learn a lot, believe me!”

The project involves about a dozen of the 500 inmates at the Linhó prison, where mainly young men with heavy sentences are imprisoned.

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