Where are you now?
Right now I live in Florida. I am a retired civilian employee so I dedicate my free time to taking care of my family and Bomba School.
In what part of Florida do you live?
I live in Kissimmee.
Can you tell me a bit more about the Bomba School?
I wanted to let you know that we have two schools. In Kissimmee, we are the second school, like the daughter of the school in Puerto Rico.
In San Juan Puerto Rico, we have the school named Escuela De Bomba Y Plena Doña Caridad Brenes De Cepeda which is managed by Tata Cepeda and that's is how I started as a student of hers about nine years ago. So when I retired and moved to Florida I was lucky enough that her daughter opened a school here which has the name of Tata Cepeda and it has been open for about three years to four years. So I have been here for about two years and immediately joined the school.
So we have two schools and for whatever you need take advantage of the school here in Florida and the founding school in Old San Juan Puerto Rico.
What is your role with the Escuela de Bomba y Plena Tata Cepeda school in Kissimmee?
I will be an eternal student, but I am a volunteer Administrative Assistant for both schools in Kissimmee, Florida and Puerto Rico.
When did the school in Old San Juan get started?
Actually, it has been there for about 20 years.
What was the style of dance and motivation to get that started?
That school started because Tata Cepeda comes from a family that for years has been involved in dance. She was raised by her grandfather Don Raphael Cepeda Atiles and we call him the patriarch of Bomba in Puerto Rico. If you google Rapheal Cepeda you will see they have been there for years. They are like part of our history in Puerto Rico.
So opening the school was not a difficult task for her-she had the name, the knowledge and the skills to do it. And above all she had the passion for Bomba. It is how she was raised. I think she has been dancing Bomba since in her mother's womb. That's how it started.
Before her, the family had been involved with Bomba for many, many, years. It's a tradition. In fact, I believe she's the eight generation from that family. They have been running-uninterrupted Bomba for all these years.
What is Bomba?
Bomba is a music and dance tradition born from the live experience of the Africans held against their will in bondage to work the sugar cane plantations in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico's Bomba tradition dates back to the early European colonialization of Puerto Rico.
It comes from our Ancestors and it is beautiful.
I've been dancing Bomba for about 9 years and it is part of my life. When you enter Bomba you can not go away from it. So I'm sure you will have quite an experience when you join in. You are going to love it.
Is it a form of Salsa?
No, it is not. Let me see...I have a couple of instruments here. One of which is called Cuás which are two sticks. Then we have the Maraca and then we have the Buleador (drums). That's it-nothing else. And with that we make music and dance.
The particular thing about Bomba is that as the dancer, you are in charge. Like Salsa, you dance when they play and with the music. Bomba is different. The drummer, the primo which is the seguidor, he has to play with whatever you do with your body along with the ladies with the skirts you make the music through the dance. And yes, it is even more beautiful because you are in charge.
The sound of the drum has to be in concert with whatever you do dancing. If you wave your hand in a certain way-the seguidor has to play to that movement. If you make gestures with just your shoulders-the seguidor has to play to it-that's the sound he's going to make.
Women, we use the skirt and I have mine here-I love my red skirt. Whenever we move it in dance, he has to make music to the movement of the fabric. You don't do this with Salsa, because I'm a Salsa lady and was raised with my brothers doing Salsa all the time. And even though I'm Puerto Rican I didn't know that much about Bomba and about ten years ago I saw a show and told my husband I would love to learn. He was able to get information about the school in San Juan and that's how it started. And now my husband is playing percussion and my daughter is singing Bomba. It's a family thing now.
So traditionally, Bomba only is done through these live interactive components between dancer and musician is that correct?
That is correct.
Can you talk about what a typical lesson might be like? How long might it take to learn how to Bomba? And is it more of a dance for ladies?
It is for ladies, men and children. In one lesson you will get the basic steps. With that first lesson, you can manage. I would say with one semester then you will be able to dance and learn about the four principal rhythms. Because we have these different rhythms and with those rhythms different ways to dance.
We have one that is called Sicá which is the first one that I learned. We have cuembé which is very nice. We have yubá which has very strong themes. And then we have holandé.
And for example, if you have an event or a show we can teach people these styles and they can integrate them into their own with basic steps to enjoy when the seguidor plays along with them.
But it is for women and men and it doesn't matter the age. I'm 60 years old and it is very inclusive. It doesn't matter if your very young or mature person it involves everybody. Actually, I would even say that it is a family thing-Bomba dance. I have people here with their children with them and we are all together. And especially during these times, with so much stress whenever we go out people just love it. At one of our shows, we even had a pregnant lady. It involves everybody. It's not just a lady thing.
Comparing the Puerto Rico Bomba scene with what's happening in Kissimmee is there a difference?
We follow the same patterns that they have at the school in Puerto Rico, so whichever you are closest to you can enjoy learning Bomba. The school there has a dancing group for events which is called Gracimá a beautiful group. And we have our group here which is called Calindá. We have some local differences but it is almost the same patterns.
In Old San Juan Tata Cepeda still has Bombazo every month, the first Saturday of each month where people can join in a see. The tourists in particular would go over there, dance, and enjoy themselves and it is so beautiful to know that we are bringing our culture to people who are coming to the island. And these always take place the first Saturday between 8-10 pm. At these Bombazos, you will see people from everywhere because Old San Juan is about tourism. So we will play to them and it doesn't matter the age or how well they can dance it's about people enjoying themselves.