Bomba Y Plena: Dancing Whimsy at a Leadership Development and Training Event
I grew up in the South Bronx in a fairly predominant Puerto Rican neighborhood. We would do parrandas (a version of caroling) around the Christmas holidays and drink coquitos. However, it was not until I went to work for a Hispanic organization that I came to learn about the “Bomba y Plena”. Bomba and plena, traditionally Puerto Rican, are drum-based musical interjections to which people can create a narrative and dance. Historically, the bomba part served as an avenue for political and spiritual expression. Historically, the Plena part is more of a storytelling narrative about current events or actions. All together bomba y plena represents a mixture of the three different cultures of Puerto Rico: the Spanish, African and Taino cultures. The bomba y plena is a blast. I specifically came to learn about Bomba y Plena head-on when I traveled to Puerto Rico for a business trip.
I was in charge of a four-day training event in Puerto Rico where we had brought together individuals from throughout the island, across public health sectors, to discuss and learn more about the HIV epidemic in Puerto Rico. We brought these diverse set of individuals together because in order to reach the end of AIDS we do need to work across sectors and leverage resources. Oftentimes, when there are limited resources it becomes a competitive environment in the non-profit field. Thus, part of the goal of the training event was to break those barriers and facilitate collaboration. I never had imagined, as I was planning this event, that dancing would help foster that collaborative spirit.
The training sessions began on time and with people doing the obligatory introductions. Usually we begin with already prepared ice breakers according to subject matter at hand. This time, however, the participants suggested their own ice breaker. They wanted to do introductions in the form of a bomba y plena. They wanted to give their name and a story to a beat. I had never heard of the bomba y plena and stood rooted to my spot fascinated by the interaction. Everyone was laughing and bonding with one another. Even I got into the act. It was a great way to start off the day. However, that spontaneous bomba y plena occurred in only one of the training rooms. Thus, not everyone that had come to the event got to partake in that deliciously fun time.
At dinner later that evening after an intense day of discussion people sat down in the dining room to decompress and nourish the body. Unfortunately, most of the individuals sat down according to their affiliation and not much cross-sector talk and breaking of bread was occurring. Suddenly, music starts blaring from one of the corners of the room and people start clapping. A group immediately formed the middle of the dining room and a full on bomba y plena started to occur. There was dancing, laughter and politicizing. Barriers were being broken as each training participant was being humanized through song and dance. Soon enough those of us that didn’t fully know how to do the bomba y plena jumped into a conga line and zipped about the room. At some point there may have been line dancing that then morphed into the boogie woogie electric slide.
I can’t claim that the dancing solved any of the problems we were there to discuss and address. However, the dancing sure was fun and a shared laugh and sense of whimsy can go a long way to helping people get to know and trust one another. From there the next step is to solve problems together.
Inspired by the Daily Prompt of Dance