If you have had the opportunity to see a Bomba performance by the uplifting and engaging Semilla Cultural (Cultural Seed) drum and dance troupe, chances are their initial impact was the beat of their unique drums and the colorful swirls of the skirts of the talented dancers. But as you watch the performance of their unique Puerto Rican “Bomba” dance more closely, another aspect comes into view—the intense focus and dynamic between the lead drummer and the featured dancer. The drummer’s eyes are trained on the dancer and, from time to time, she may cast a challenging or dramatically haughty look his way. This element is the hallmark of Bomba: Rather than dancing to the drumbeat of the percussionist, the dancer is the lead in this duo, and the drummer watches the moves of her over-skirt to anticipate—and match—her next move. (Though the dancer is typically a woman, the roles are not gender-specific.)
A non-profit performing arts group, Semilla Cultural was created to promote intercultural understanding and appreciation by one of its lead dancers, Isha Renta. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Renta moved to the DC area in 2007 to complete her master’s degree in meteorology. “Surprisingly, I never experienced Bomba music on the island. Though the genre dates back hundreds of years and is rooted in African heritage among the population of enslaved people, it was typically sidelined in Puerto Rico and has only recently experienced a resurgence in the late 1990s and early 2,000s,” said Renta.
Isha was enamored with Bomba at first sight and joined a dance troupe in Washington in 2004. After moving to Fredericksburg ten years ago, she found it difficult to commute to keep up with performances and practices in DC and determined to create a Bomba troupe here.
Semilla Cultural had humble beginnings. It started with workshops for dancers and drummers in her family’s basement. Isha’s invitation to participants spread among the Puerto Rican community in the area, many of whom were employed as engineers and scientists at Dahlgren and Quantico. The enthusiastic response surprised even Renta. The troupe continues to attract dancers and musicians, and performances have ranged from community festivities to performances at local venues as well as universities and the esteemed Millennium Stage of the Kennedy Center.
Isha finds fulfillment not only in Semilla Cultural’s success in promoting an appreciation for her cultural heritage, but also from the transforming experience of a dancer. “The drumming itself connects people because it is the sound of a heartbeat,” she said. “In an informal community gathering, dancers often select the song that most calls to them,” she added. “When you are dancing to a song that you truly enjoy, it may elicit feelings from deep within. It’s really beautiful. I have seen performances where the dancer may come to tears. Sometimes when I am dancing, it is almost like being in a trance because the emotions are so strong. Everything around me seems muted. I hear only the main drummer and it seems like it is just him and me. Everything else fades away. It is truly a beautiful experience.”
Semilla Cultural play many events in the central Rappahannock River region, including UMWs annual Multicultural Fair and Music on the Steps. They also travel to Richmond, Northern Virginia, DC, and Maryland. Check out their website and Facebook page for more information about where you can catch an event or workshop.
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