Dancer breathes new life into traditional art form

Milteri Tucker

A physical injury may cause some workers to question a career choice, but it gave Milteri Tucker the drive to pursue two.

Tucker, a professional dancer, was left unable to practice after a not so graceful landing from a grand jete (split -in -the -air) during a practice for her first solo performance more than a decade ago.

Frustrated by what she referred to as “lack of urgency” from the doctor to get her back on the dance floor, she realized that not only did she want to dance, she wanted to be able to treat injuries too.

Our body is our only instrument, she said. “And we have to take care of it.”

Eight months after that experience, at the age of 17, Tucker decided to leave her native Puerto Rico and move to the Bronx to pursue undergraduate degrees in both dance and biology.

Before starting college Tucker only visited New York City to see her grandmother and Broadway shows.

She has come a long way from the 11-year-old girl who was always shy about being the only tall, black Latina in everything she did in dancing.

Today Milteri Tucker performs in three dance companies, including her own Bomba Bombazo Dance Company. She also puts her skills in the sciences to use in the dance classes she prepares for senior citizens.

Tucker has just wrapped up a Bomba workshop at the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance in Hunts Point where she said the goal of her six-week class was to do more than teach the moves of the dance. She wanted the students to learn the culture and history of the people through dance in its purest form, folkloric.

She has brought a fusion of the traditional Puerto Rican dance Bomba with a modern twist from the Bronx to the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and back. She has also performed locally at Hostos Theatre on the Grand Concourse, among other venues. 

Dance is power,” she said. “It is the canvas and we are the paint, so we have to embody the form in order to take someone to another world for the duration of a performance.”

The fall workshop began with the three elements of the Afro- Puerto Rican folkloric art form, which are song, rhythm and dance. Bomba is characterized by the communication between dancer and drummer. The dancer makes a series of movements to which the drummer responds with a synchronized beat. It is the drummer that tries to follow the movement of the dancer, not the other way around.

The workshop started just months after a successful performance at the Pregones Theater on Walton Ave. this past summer.

Prior to that Tucker was selected to perform her Bomba choreography for the Alvin Ailey Dance Company at the Citigroup Theater in Manhattan in 2010.

She began teaching Bomba workshops at her Alma Mater, Hunter College, as a guest instructor in 2004, less than three years after completing dual degrees in Dance and Biology. She found a sense of identity through this dance form, something that this Puerto Rican native says she did not have at the time.

Tucker is a powerful force on the dance floor whose intense brown eyes seem to study every move in the reflection of the dance studio’s mirror in order to execute it with precision. Her 5- foot-7 inch frame often appears elongated when she moves her arms or neck to get a step just right.

She was accepted into medical school, but those plans are on the back burner as her focus is on dance.

Her mother, Majarita Concepcion knew that the arts were for Milteri before she even started grade school.

She used to walk on her tip-toes always and I took her for an analysis because I thought something was wrong, maybe the calfs or the hamstrings, but everything was fine. She just liked to dance from the age of two,” said Concepcion, who lives in Puerto Rico, but often travels to New York in support of her daughter’s dance career.

One of Tucker’s mentors, acclaimed Latin choreographer and performer Maria Torres, said Tucker will continue to be successful.

She is willing to study and do the work,” said Torres. She has the persistence and passion, so how far she goes is up to her.”

Now, at 29 years old Tucker has been performing across the Tri-State area, Puerto Rico and in Europe for more than a decade and still has plans to practice medicine.

If I’m 90 and look back, I would like to be known for both dance and medicine and as a person who pioneered a new form and a new way of looking at something that has been done for years,” Tucker said. “I want to give back to the community and dance community what it has given to me.”