The project, symbolically named Termini Underground, was born a decade ago when dancer and choreographer Angela Cocozza decided to do something for youngsters who were walking around Termini station all day long having nothing better to do. Most of them had immigrated to Italy after running away from home countries destroyed by wars and economic despair. Some were already using drugs and alcohol while others were at risk of doing so.
One of the rehearsals ©Luca Marchesini Fotografia
To help them, Angela offered to teach them to dance and has given them an opportunity to engage in a group activity and develop a sense of belonging, which is fundamental to the process of integration.
“They all have had very difficult life stories,” Angela told me in an interview she gave me some minutes before the start of one of the classes. “They are wild. But dance requires discipline,” she added, explaining that her work with young people at risk of social exclusion is not always easy.
The studio, where we have met, is a rather small room located literally under one of the train platforms, and I can hear the buzz of trains above our heads as we are talking. But Angela and her students do not pay attention to it, as the sound of music coming from the stereo gets louder.
The space that was once owned by the Italian Railway Station Workers’ union has turned out to be a favorite place for hanging out for numerous young people from Asia, Africa, and across Europe.
Juru from Rwanda ©Luca Marchesini Fotografia
Juru from Rwanda is one of them. His family escaped the massacres of the 1990s in his home country and made their way to Italy, where to this day he has the status of a political refugee. An extraordinary rapper and a hip hop dancer, he is one of the outstanding members of the group, with amazing singing and dancing skills.
By involving young people in the arts, the Termini Underground project aims to solve not only the problem of failed integration and drugs and alcohol abuse, but also school dropout and crime. By now, more than 500 young people from the most marginalized social groups living in Italy have participated in some of the Termini Underground’s activities, which are not only dance but also theater and visual arts classes.
Now known by his nick name Angelo, Sinan from Kosovo was given by his parents to a family in Sicily when he was 6 years old, where he was forced to steal and rob houses. After some time, he ran away and found himself in Rome, with no money and no friends. A couple of years ago, he found his way to the Termini Underground, where today he is a break dance star who teaches a younger generation of dancers, helping them to integrate themselves into Italian society. “Dancing is my cure, music makes me forget about bad things,” he said in an interview with Youth Time Magazine.
Termini Underground studio under the railway ©Luca Marchesini Fotografia
In the last ten years, the young dancers of the Termini Underground have performed in the streets, at festivals, on TV screens and on some of Rome’s most prestigious theater stages. Italian media highlighted their last year’s show in the Brancaccio Theater in Rome as a “spectacular performance of creativity by international youth.” They are now rehearsing for their performance in Teatro Sala Umberto, another famous Roman theatre which will host them in June 2016.
So if you happen to visit Rome any time soon, make sure to check what they are up to. Angela and her group are always planning something exciting.