Dance classes give hope to Portuguese prisoners

ALCABIDECHE, PORTUGAL: Inside a high-security Portuguese 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 of Linho prison in the western suburbs of Lisbon are lined with barbed wire and a loudspeaker barks instructions for prisoners in a metallic voice.

But in the contemporary dance studio, in a converted former chapel, inmates are dancing freely to classical music with an object of their choice: a scarf, ball, plastic bags or a light bulb.

“Dance – with poetry!” calls out the teacher, 47-year-old dancer Catarina Camara.

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.

“When we are here, it feels like we are not in prison,” says 30-year-old inmate Manuel Antunes.

“We can let ourselves go, carried by the moment and by what we feel.”

There are around 500 prisoners in Linho, many of them young men who have committed serious offences and been handed sentences of 15 years or more.

Around a dozen are now taking part in the dance project.