For over twelve years Termini Underground has offered hundreds of kids in free dance classes. They have put on a huge amount of shows and achieved a tremendous success in achieving the goals that they have set out to accomplish.
By Cristina Lonigro
In what was once a tea break room for train workers, has now become a place where both locals and immigrants, often from the margins of society, come together in order share their passion for dance. For many of the people that come to Termini Underground, part of the Ali Onlus Association, the place has become like a second family. There are around 500 people involved in the project, between the ages of 14 and 30, all under the guidance of Angela Cocozza, choreographer, dancer and creator of this social initiative.
Over 12 years have passed since the birth of Termini Underground. How did this project come about?
The origins of Termini Underground are very much connected to my personal experience; the project in fact was born out of a necessity to help the daughter of a very close friend of mine. During her adolescence I saw that she was a bit lost, and one evening I saw her at the train station with hanging out with a group of guys. That was the inspiration that pushed me to help her, and then that same feeling that pushed me to help other kids. During that time in my life I was already using dance in a social context, and thanks to a chance meeting with a group based in England that worked with prison inmates, the idea was born to do something similar at the Station Terminal, creating somewhere positive where young people could meet and participate in a dance work shop.
How did the project develop over time?
The idea if having a place where everyone is welcome has always remained the same. We never ask the kids that come here what their name is or where they have they have come from, in such a way as to approach even the most reluctant cases. We initially get people that have been a part of the project for a few years to welcome the newcomers, and they start to practice together without any sort of limit or constraints. Only once they show promise the teachers start to approach the new entries and if they are willing we give them to opportunity to take on a greater commitment, giving them a bit more of a structure with regular dance classes, seriously working with them all the way up to the point where they are ready to start putting on shows.
Many of the kids that participate in the project are foreign born or children of immigrants, political or stateless refugees. How does is this multiculturalism experienced within the group?
Cultural diversity is a totally natural part of the project. There have never been any difficulties that have arisen as a result of having people of different races coming to dance here. There is a real beauty of having a solid group that forms inside our dance studio. It is a meeting of worlds: there are Italians that dance with foreigners, a kid that might come from a stable family that becomes dance partners with someone that has come from a broken home. This is a very stimulating environment, for everyone involved, and over the years I have seen some amazing bonds created here, friendships that have lasted a lifetime.
Has Termini Underground been an important part of your life?
My life revolves around this project. Everything has changed. I spend my evenings thinking about what the kids have shared with me that day and in what direction I want to take Termini Underground. It’s still too soon to say how successful we are in forging a new future for the people that come through our doors, but over the years I have seen so many people completely transform themselves and some of our students have gone on to become professional dancers. I like to think of Termini Underground as a construction site for people, a sort of vaccination against criminality, and proof that if you apply yourself to something positive, and you really stick at it, anything is possible.
How did the collaboration with San Patrignano come about?
In 2011 we were invited to participate in WeFree Days and since then we have not missed a single one of these events. It was an incredible experience; we were all completely overcome with emotion. Since then WeFree days has become a fixture in our calendar, and we all can’t wait to come back.