Flanders takes up European Prison Dance Challenge


Organisations worked with prisoners in Flanders and Brussels to follow in Finland’s footsteps and produce a dance video bursting with life and hope

Jail birds

Ultima Vez dance company has heeded the call of the Vanaja Prison in Finland, which asked other women’s prisons in Europe to follow-up their dance video with one of their own. Choreographer Seppe Baeyens worked with women in three prisons in Flanders and one in Brussels to create a new entry in the European Prison Dance Challenge.

Last summer, the Vanaja women’s prison in Finland released a video of inmates performing a piece, put together with the help of local dance instructors. They challenged other women’s prisons to produce videos of their own.

Non-profit organisation De Rode Antraciet, which introduces cultural and sport activities in prisons in Flanders and Brussels, was the first to accept the challenge. It contacted Ultima Vez and regional prisons to arrange sessions between the dance company and inmates.

Twenty-four prisoners in institutions in Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Hoogstraten ultimately took part in the video. Unlike the Finnish video, a group choreography danced on exterior prison grounds, they were shot dancing individually in their own cells.

It is so nice to meet someone who not only takes time to listen to me, but who values my opinion

- Prison inmate

Baeyens helped the women to search for the right movements to express themselves. “The women had to get used to that amount of attention, to someone who listens and wants to work with what is being said,” says Baeyens. “As the group dynamics got more solid, and the trust in each other grew, they started looking for what exactly they wanted to express and how they wanted to do that.”

The inmates don spirited clothes, jewellery and make-up, most of which they probably haven’t had access to since being in prison. They dance to British musician Nilüfer Yanya’s “The Florist”. In one poignant moment, a woman dances with a baby in her arms.

The video has now joined Finland’s in the European Prison Dance Challenge and it is hoped that more will follow. “By answering Finland’s call, we wanted to take up a meaningful challenge and to emphasise the importance of sport and culture in prison,” says Els Tijskens, managing director of the Leuven-based De Rode Antraciet. “The result is – both in human and in artistic respects – a strong plea for more interaction between prisoners and free society.”

If the video is anything to go by, prisoners certainly enjoyed the process. One of the participants commented: “It is so nice to meet someone who not only takes time to listen to me, but who values my opinion.”