Stick-fighting Dances of the Caribbean and Early New Orleans

2023 Tom Dent Congo Square Lecture

Curated by Freddi Williams Evans


Friday, March 24th

Lecture– Doors open at 5:00 pm; Begins at 5:30pm

Community Dance Event – Begins at 7:00pm


Ashé Cultural Arts Center

1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd, New Orleans, LA 70113 Free Admission

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation presents a Tom Dent Congo Square Lecture on stick-fighting dances of the Caribbean and early New Orleans – the cultural practices that enslaved people of African descent perpetuated in Congo Square on Sunday afternoons reflected those found in the parts of West and West Central Africa along with the French and Spanish West Indies. Stick-fighting dances were among these, and New Orleanians who provided interviews during the 1930s for the Federal Writer’s Project reported witnessing versions of them.

Dance artist, choreographer, educator, and scholar Militeri Tucker Concepción researched and studied with master dance artist Miquel Quijano to revive, choreograph, and stage Cocobalé (also Kokobalé), the long-forgotten stick-fighting dance of Puerto Rico. Once an integral part of the Bomba, the traditional dance of Puerto Rico, Cocobalé was used to disguise the fighting practices of enslaved and free people when the Spanish colonial government prohibited them from bearing arms.

As a Bomba practitioner and advocate, Concepción is the founder and artistic director of Bombazo Dance Company, a Puerto Rican Bronx-based organization that preserves, educates, advocates, and performs Bomba, Puerto Rico’s oldest music and dance genre of enslaved and free people of color that dates back to the 17th century. The Bomba is directly related in performance style, music accompaniment, and ethnic origin to the popular dance performed in Congo Square and other parts of the city and state commonly called the Congo Dance. Other names for the dance included the Bamboula and the Chica.

Concepción and her company will perform Cocobalé at the Congo Square Rhythms Festival on March 26th. The opportunity to discuss the history of this dance, the process of choreographing it for the stage and its historical relationship to New Orleans will educate and inspire local audiences as well as promote an international perspective about local history and culture.


  • Milteri Tucker Concepción
  • Miquel Quijano, Gran Maestro Cocobalero (Grand Cocobale Master and Martial Arts/ Stick Fighting)
  • Demonstrators (Drummers and dancers of Bombazo Dance Company)
  • Freddi Williams Evans


The discussion with Concepción and Quijano will include the following points:

  • The history behind the Cocobalé
  • Versions of this dance in other locations. For example, in Cuba, it is called the Juego de Mani; and, in Haiti, it’s called Mayolé.
  • The process of reviving the dance and bringing it to the stage
  • The aspects of the traditional dance that were altered (ex. the inclusion of women)
  • Ways in which Concepción and her company conserve and advocate for Afro-Puerto Rican Bomba
  • The connection between the Bomba and traditional dances in other parts of the African Diaspora including New Orleans
  • Strategies for preserving traditional dance forms while fusing them with contemporary and social styles
  • Social justice themes from the 17th century to the present day.

*Time will be allowed for questions from the audience and music and dance demonstrations with members of Bombazo Dance Company.

Community Dance Demonstration:

Immediately following the Tom Dent Lecture, Ashé Cultural Arts Center’s Sistahs Making a Change is hosting a special community dance class led by Bombazo Dance Company! Join us for a beginner’s level Bomba class and experience this unique Puerto Rican music genre and dance in which the dancer guides the rhythm and tempo of the drums. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn new moves while honoring the traditions and power of the enslaved Africans who were brought to Puerto Rico. Suggested donation is $10, RSVP at

In Collaboration With:

The mission of Ashé Cultural Arts Center is to use art and culture to support human, community, and economic development. Ashé Cultural Art Center’s innovative programming is designed to utilize culture in fostering human development and civic engagement. They maintain 10,000 square feet of gallery space and 20,000 square feet of performance space to create and preserve opportunities for the curation, exhibition, and commission of fine, folk, and fine-folk art. Producing over 350 music, theater, dance, spoken word, drum circles, and multi-disciplinary events a year, Ashé believes in art as a paradigm-shifting call to action. As ecosystem builders, we deliver programming and direct services that support, leverage, and celebrate the people, places, and philosophies of the African Diaspora.

The Tom Dent Congo Square Lecture is a program produced and presented by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit that owns the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell. The Foundation uses the proceeds from Jazz Fest, and other raised funds, for year-round programs in education, economic development and cultural enrichment. For more on what we do, please visit