Written by Ashley Castillo
Romina D’Ugo is a first-generation Canadian, and proud daughter to Italian immigrant parents. Originally from Toronto, Romina grew up dancing and trained since the age of 9 at one of the most competitive dance schools in the country. “I grew up watching my parents tango, waltz, and tarantella at family (Italian) weddings. If you know, then you know. Those flavors really connect me to nostalgia and a sense of elegance and joy. I’ve also been a competitive and professional dancer most of my life, and the discipline we develop in that world serves so immensely in all other facets of life where qualities of relentless determination and embracing failure are assets. I also think dancers are one of the fiercest athletes on the planet. Our work regime is untouchable, our stamina, strength, flexibility, dexterity, and then on top of all that, ARTISTRY, make me grateful popular tv dance shows came to be so we could shine the light on these movement superstars who otherwise might be the background act of a singer or movie scene. I also believe wholeheartedly in very messy, uncoordinated, eyes-shut, in-the-club dancing! It’s all valid and necessary for the soul.”
Dancing was always something she had to work very hard at while acting, Romina says, always came naturally to her. “As a kid, acting was the most natural thing for me. I just got it. I was memorizing monologues and performing lead roles in our Drama Club by age 8. But I sort of thought, well I’m already an actor, I have to “become” something, right? My big sis was taking some ballet classes at the time so I thought, okay let’s try this. I was never blessed as the most naturally technical dancer. I had to work my butt off to get flexible, strong, and execute movement like my peers, with each new level I climbed. And I do believe I was the hardest worker in any given room. I would arrive hours before dance class started, and practice. I would take recreation classes on the weekends when other competitive dancers I aspired to be like were hanging with friends. I would arrive at school in the morning at the same time as the custodians some days to work on a choreography assignment or stretch in the hallway while I caught up on homework because I didn’t finish it the night before as I’d been in dance class until 10:30pm.” The hard work paid off and Romina became a household name when she earned a spot as one of the Top 20 dancers on season 1 of the hugely popular series So You Think You Can Dance.
Despite the hard work needed to succeed at dance, the transition to acting was seamless. “Transitioning to acting felt seamless for me because I think I was just always an actor. Getting steady work is a whole other story! And the real challenge was convincing my mom it would be a good idea to forgo my scholarship for Kinesiology at York University so I could study musical theatre instead.” Romina did just that though and her career began when she landed a supporting role in the Universal Pictures film How She Move. She went on to star opposite Justin Chatwin in the feature film, Funkytown. In 2010, Romina also starred in MTV’s original movie Turn The Beat Around for which she was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Canadian Screen Awards. Most recently she starred in the coming-of-age dramatic comedy I Like Movies, making its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. “I Like Movies is a film for dreamers, cinephiles, and those seeking revenge on know-it-alls in any department. A coming of age story set in the early 2000s following a teenage boy with dreams so big, he doesn’t understand how douche it is to stomp all over people on his journey. My character, Alanna, gives him his first job at the video store she manages so he can pay tuition to go to NYU. Sometimes you need people who bulldoze, to be forced to face them, yourself, and your life. If you’ve ever been to high school or ever had a dream, this movie is for you.” Playing Alanna is one of her most memorable roles to date and a character she immediately connected with “I fell in love with Alanna from my very first audition scene. She’s someone who has been through some really devastating hardships in her life in pursuit of her own dreams but has never faced the healing required to move on from that chapter. She’s real, she’s messy, she’s trying her absolute best, and her life does not revolve around making the lead male fall in love with her. Win, win, win, win.”
Aside from her talents, Romina is a feminist deeply dedicated to re-wiring societal limitations and exploitations she’s absorbed and internalized as a woman in the world. She suggests that the word shouldn’t be considered ugly and bring division but instead should be powerful and unifying. “Feminism isn’t an annoying or aggressive word, it’s a world stabilizer,” she states. “When people get defensive about the word, the concept, the reality of it, it breaks my heart a little bit, because that defensiveness is just another way we disempower the perpetrated and turn the problem back on them. And we miss out on the necessary opportunities and gifts that women specifically can offer the world, that would balance it.”
Passionate about artistry in all its forms, Romina is also the designer and creator of the eco-conscious jewelry line WILYMI Jewelry Co. WILYMI stands for “Wear It Like You Mean It” and was created as a way of imbuing her life lessons into wearable art. Each piece holds a unique and purposeful intention and is an expression of this intimate process. A champion of women’s empowerment movements, Romina donates a portion of the proceeds to the GIRLS INC charity, which equips girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers, and advocates for legislation and policies to increase opportunities and rights for all girls.
Romina also dedicates her time to mentoring women struggling with eating disorders. “I’ve been doing it for about 8 years now and it is one of my greatest honors to witness. The transformation of a woman as she releases self-harm in favor of self-acceptance. As someone who luckily made it to the other side of this horrific and deadly addiction, I have a specifically female lens/understating of recovery, the messaging we must unearth and rewrite. I hope for more opportunities to support my sweet sisterhood. I love women so much and I believe in them, unwaveringly.”
When asked if her 9-year old self could imagine how far she’s come, she gushes. “Awww I love this question so much. It makes me tear up. I was the type of kid who always looked up to someone. I always had my eye and heart on a female artist who was doing what I hoped to do one day, and at the level I dreamed to do it at. Having those idols was a blessing for me. It kept me endlessly inspired and focused on growth, rather than the challenges of being a kid/teen. I’ve been through so much in my life. From witnessing my dad fight (and eventually succumb to) a ten-year battle with dementia, to a rampant eating disorder that got me through hardship I felt I couldn’t handle, but eventually made it difficult to be myself, be healthy, and keep up with life. I had a really hard time in high school, as I was pretty severely bullied for about five years. And have my own experiences with sexual assault (which ironically really empowers me today). But no one would ever have guessed any of the above as I was extremely high functioning and able to hide the pain with a relentlessly joyful/inspired heart. But it was hard. I think that the person I am today would be the exact type of person/artist the 9 year old me would have looked up to. And it wouldn’t have been possible without all that pain. It’s such a profound and beautiful full circle. It really moves me.”
Up next Romina can be seen in the feature Portal To Hell, written and directed by Andrew Woody. Follow Romina’s journey on Instagram @rominadugo.
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Romina D’Ugo on Her Latest Film “I Like Movies,” the Word Feminism as a World Stabilizer, and the Artistry of Dance. Photo Credit: Vita Cooper.
Written by Ashley Castillo