In Milan, many youngsters from the Latin American community can be found in the streets, parks and stations practising “El Caporal”, a type of dance that originated in Bolivia towards the end of the 1960s and was then exported around the world by those emigrating from the country. The ‘Caporal’ represents the overseer of the slaves from the colonial period, linked to the Afro-Bolivian culture, with brightly coloured clothes to identify him as a military guard and large bells on the boots to instil authority. It’s an urban subculture phenomenon found in many cities across Europe, namely all those where Bolivian migrants have settled (in Italy youngsters from Peru and Ecuador also participate, and Milan is home to over 32,000 people originating from these countries).
Normally one person leads the group with a whistle, providing the rhythm for others to follow. The men perform acrobatics and jumps, whilst the women perform continuous movements with their hips so as to make their skirts swing round as they march to the rhythm with their feet. However, the male role can also be performed by women, so-called “machitas”. Very popular among young people, the dance is a way of helping second generation migrants to maintain a connection with their origins and of facilitating the integration of those who’ve recently arrived in Italy. But it’s actually an intergenerational phenomenon that also involves parents and the older generations, particularly during the competitions organised at weekends which bring groups together from different cities.
When practising, the dancers help each other to learn the steps and everything within the community is based on mutual assistance. Getting ready, getting dressed and performing are all integral parts of the social experience. These images feature the dancers from the ACBI group in particular, who practise at a number of informal locations around Milan such as Martesana park and the Porta Venezia underground railway station.