(Article from the Fall 2019 Issue of the New York for Seniors Print Magazine)
By Angella Brown
In the 17th century, African slaves who were brought to the tropical shores of Puerto Rico by the Spaniards were of different tribes, but soon developed a shared style of dance and music through which they could communicate. What came to be known as “Bomba,” was once outlawed by the slave masters; every aspect of Bomba, from the expressive physical movements, to the traditional formal attire, to the lively, rhythmic music, enabled the slaves to connect and create a culture authentic to the Afro-Puerto Rican experience.
Milteri Tucker, a Puerto Rican native, is the founder and artistic director of Bombazo Dance Company, a non-profit dedicated to the dance advocacy of the African diaspora, to support and keep the heritage alive through dance for future generations. Over the last 15-plus years, Ms. Tucker has apprenticed and performed with Bomba elders and families in Puerto Rico; she has also lectured and instructed on Bomba technique across the U.S. and internationally. Ms. Tucker is extremely passionate about sharing traditions through dance with youth and seniors, through workshops, classes and special events.
“In 2000, a documentary came out about Bomba and the family culture, which caused a resurgence of interest for a whole new generation,” Ms. Tucker says. “I see our [dance] company as filling a gap that may exist in our community, spreading the magic and beauty of our ancestry.” The art of the dance helps participants learn the history and take pride in their culture.
Bombazo means “dance jam,” a communal experience underscored by the artistry of the conversation that is Bomba: a rhythmic display where the live drummer is challenged to follow the dancer’s movements. In her senior program, established in 2008, Ms. Tucker engages older dancers by meeting them at their level, assessing their feelings and having them start where they are. “They must feel comfortable doing what they can,” she says. “Their movement may be limited, but they try. And it is my responsibility to create a safe space to build trust so they move to the more challenging steps, to grow to a goal. It’s not just exercise or fitness, but also artistic expression.”
Ms. Tucker says it’s the transformative power of the dance that she loves the most. “I see how the dance brings joy to the seniors; they’re being exposed to something new that connects them to their homeland, or reliving the vivid memories they have of growing up.” She adds: “Ladies come in and forget about shyness; they become youthful and fearless! It truly can be life-changing.”
Speaking about several seniors actively involved in Bomba, some for as long as 10 years, Ms. Tucker says: “Dance heals all, and it’s about the experience. Even [for] those that don’t physically participate, the cognitive activity sparked by the music, the lyrics; it’s all important. They walk away with a sense of culture.”
The Bombazo Dance Company has worked with senior and community centers, and has appeared as a part of festivals and fairs throughout the Tri-State area. Centers interested in bringing the senior program to their location can make a request through the website (https://www.bombazodanceco.com), or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
To have the New York for Seniors print magazine distributed at your Senior Center or House of Worship, contact New York for Seniors at (877)255-7017. You can also pickup a copy at the next New York for Seniors Health & Wellness Resource Fair, Thursday Nov. 14, 2019 at the Brooklyn Sports Club. RSVP here to attend this Free event, which will include Tai-Chi, Giveaways, Free Thanksgiving Turkey Raffle, and more.