Learning to dance Bomba on the Island where it was born is one of the most incredible experiences one can have. If you love Bomba, then I encourage you to someday take a class at the Escuela de Bomba y Plena in Puerto Rico. This humble school is run by Modesto Cepeda, son of Don Rafael Cepeda, and his daughter Gladys. It was founded over 20 years ago by his wife Enriquetta (Doņa Ketty), and is home to two dance groups, Cimiento de Puerto Rico (teen/young adult) and Las Cepeditas (children).
I go back to the Escuela de Bomba y Plena whenever I am on the island. Modesto and his family are warm and loving, and their family has spent generations preserving this very special part of our culture, a heritage rooted in our West African ancestry.
Whenever we perform, I share a little bit of history with the audience, so that they understand where our dances come from. Whenever we perform Bomba, I always talk about our African roots and how the slaves that were brought to Puerto Rico marked important occassions in their lives, births, weddings, with a Bomba Dance. I always said it, because I knew it was true -- afterall, I had read it in book on our dance history.
I lived those words on one of my past pilgrimages to Puerto Rico. That was the trip when Doņa Ketty suddenly passed away. I will never forget seeing Doņa Ketty, one last time, lying peacefully in her favorite green Bomba dress, the flag of Puerto Rico across her chest. The sound of the bariles (drums). The Bomba danced by family and friends, dancing while they cried. The procession on foot to the cemetary, the sky sending down tears while Pleneros beat hand held drums and created songs about Doņa Ketty and the contributions she had made in her life.