By: Javier Pedroza
Milteri Tucker Concepción is a busy and multi-talented Afro Boricua who holds degrees in Biology, Chemistry and a master’s in Dance Education. She is an author, a mother and was casted in Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights the movie. As we approach #NYFW2021, Milteri puts on another hat, as designer.
Milteri is the founder of BOMBAZO and the artistic director of Bombazo Dance Co. The Puerto Rican-Bronx based non-profit dance organization’s focus is to educate, advocate, preserve and perform Bomba Puertorriqueña. As an author, educator and master Bomba dancer, she lectures across the United States and the world. I sat with Milteri and we spoke about Bomba, fashion and Puerto Rico.
Milteri, tell our readers, who is Milteri Tucker Concepción?
Well, I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and grew up with a passion for dance since I was 5 years old. I recall dancing in “la Sala”(the living room) with three of the most influential women in my life: my grandmother, mother and aunt. As part of my upbringing I remember dancing, planting and assisting my elders in the kitchen. I also vividly recall shopping for fabrics with my aunt and watching my grandmother Abuela Teresa, warmly referred to as “Mama” sewing. My aunt “Titi” Maria Concepción was a designer who attended FIT and designed clothes for top actors in Puerto Rico. I was blessed to have been raised in a household full of love, and love for my culture!
As a teenager, I studied dance in La Escuela de Bellas Artes in Ponce, PR. At 17, [I] moved to NYC to pursue careers in dance and science. In 2006, I graduated with a dual major of Dance and Biology with a minor in Chemistry from Hunter College. I currently hold a masters degree in Dance Education from NYU Steinhardt. Today I am a renowned Bomba master dancer, choreographer, scholar, dance educator and author. [I wrote] the first bilingual Bomba children’s book, titled “Bomba Puertorriqueña” and illustrated by Boricua artist, Mia Roman.
I’ve had the privilege to perform in multiple venues across NYC and the world – from the prestigious Lincoln Center, Madison Square Garden, City Center, Summerstage, Pregones Theater, BAAD, The Latin Billboards Awards, dancing for Don Omar with choreography by Maria Torres O’Connor, to amazing community centers.
I am a cultural warrior (guerrera cultural) who safeguards our traditions of Bomba Puertorriquenas, via [my] 501c3 non-profit dance organization: Bombazo Dance Co, Inc and international brand of Caribbean dance skirts: Bombazo Wear-Bomba & Caribbean Dance Skirts®. I was recently featured in Lin Manuel Miranda’s movie, In The Heights, as the Bomba representation.
How was your experience filming ‘In the Heights’?
Being invited to dance Bomba for In the Heights was a surreal experience and a dream come true! It was an honor to represent our African heritage through our traditional dances. However, one of my favorite memories came after the movie premiered…. I had the opportunity to open the 2021 Virtual National Puerto Rican Day Parade in NYC, where Lin and I danced Bomba together.
What is the history of Bomba?
Bomba is Puerto Rico’s oldest musical genre, dating back to the 17th century and created by the African enslaved and free people of color from the Caribbean. This was one of the ways they communicated in our coastal sugarcane and coffee plantations. It is a secular practice, where the community gathers to sing, dance and drum.
Why did you create Bombazo Dance Company?
I founded Bombazo Dance Company to show the world that Puerto Rico has rich African ancestry, and that our traditions are very much alive. As a Bomba dance company, we communicate through dance and drumming. [This is] reflected in our traditional folk art dancers. It is also important to create a safe space to fuse Bomba with other forms of dance – such as ballet, contemporary, social dances and dances of the African and Caribbean diaspora.
What inspired you to create Bombazo dance wear?
At the same time I started Bombazo Dance Company, I was teaching Bomba classes to the community and needed skirts. Believe it or not, it was hard to find a seamstress who could make Caribbean skirts or a location to purchase them. I wanted to create skirts that fit all Caribbean dance styles, because I am that dancer. And voilà – Bombazo Wear Bomba Caribbean Skirts was born! My mother, Dr. Margarita Concepción, and I are the CEOs and we sew the [skirts] too. Our skirts are handmade, custom[ized] and tailored to each client. A part of the funds go to aid families affected by the earthquakes in Southern Puerto Rico.
How does it feel to be invited to NYFW 2021 / Harlem Fashion Week?
It is an honor to have been invited to showcase for a second time in HFM! The organizers are truly showcasing diversity within their shows and providing opportunities for designers of color to present their designs to the world. It’s important to me – as a woman of color, a Latina and AfroBoricua – [that] they understand my vision of dance as fashion. And my skirts have fashion written all over them!
Tell us about your upcoming collection “Resistencia y Libertá!” (Resistance and Freedom).
I am the creator of the Puerto Rican Bomba Flag Skirt®. A flag; its colors, represents a collective orgullo – pride for its people. Our flag was conceived and designed here in NYC. It was prohibited to fly The Puerto Rican flag in both Puerto Rico and New York at one time. Its pride is back after Hurricane Maria, [now] you see our colors in every town’s building and rinconcito (corner) in both Puerto Rico and the diaspora! Therefore, my new collection for 2021 is titled: “Resistencia y Libertá!” Where each skirt in the collection represents a social cause affecting Puerto Rico – such as the cultural resistencia by the people, No al Feminicidio, Boricua hasta en la Luna, Afroboricuaness, LGBTQ+ representation and support in the Bomba Community, ect. It is important to note that this is a brand and line designed and sewn by a Bomba dancer, a person from the community. These are skirts [are designed] with a mission. Part of the funds go to help families affected by the earthquakes in the South of Puerto Rico and organizations/community ensembles continuing the labor of safeguarding Bomba traditions in the island.
Any advice for the youth who want to connect and immerse themselves with their African roots and Culture?
Learn about all parts of you! That makes you unique and special. Speak to your elders: abuelas, abuelos, tias, tios and elders from your community. They have a lot of wisdom and years of experience you can learn from. Always connect to your culture, to your African roots! There is an African proverb I love : “Sankofa– in order to move forward you must know your past!” Know who you are, where you come from, so that you can pass the knowledge to your next generation! Ubuntu! (an African Proverb [that] means “I am because we ALL are!”)
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