BOMBA: The Rhythm of the Barrio

BOMBA: The Rhythm of the Barrio

La Casita's Dance Troupe at the opening event of the 2011 Bomba y Plena Festival
La Casita’s Dance Troupe at the opening event of the 2011 Bomba y Plena Festival

Music and dance have always been at the heart of La Casita’s programming. From exhibits to recitals and performances, to youth programs, student projects and more, La Casita has embraced the rhythms that define Latin music and dance, and expands on these traditions. As we commemorate La Casita’s 10th anniversary, we reflect on the Center’s dance programs and the vital role that they play in community building and cultural heritage preservation.


Led by Luz Encarnación, La Casita’s very first dance troupe was formed within the year of La Casita’s opening to the public in 2011. Luz already had a long history in the Syracuse community as a Bomba & Plena dance instructor and choreographer, and perhaps more importantly, as a mentor to the youths who participated in her programs. The dance workshops were designed to also educate in wellness and self-care, developing confidence and self-esteem in youths who actively engaged with their community through year-round live performances at La Casita and across the City of Syracuse.

La Casita's exhibit space including 40 limited-edition silkscreen prints
In 2011, La Casita hosted the Bomba y Plena Festival which include a stunning exhibition of 40 limited-edition silkscreens created and signed by master print makers from Puerto Rico

In 2012, La Casita hosted a Bomba y Plena Festival commemorating the start of Hispanic Heritage Month. Bomba & Plena are important genres of folk music from Puerto Rico, typically associated with the coastal parts of the island, where African roots and cultural heritage are strong. The music is characterized by the style of drumming and lively dancers with long swirling skirts. It is especially popular in the Eastern coastal town of Loíza, Puerto Rico, which is the place of origin for a large segment of the Puerto Rican community in Syracuse’s Westside neighborhood.

The 2012 Bomba y Plena Festival included live dance performances and a stunning exhibition of 40 limited-edition silkscreens created and signed by master print makers from Puerto Rico to commemorate the annual Bomba & Plena festivals on the island. Three of the pieces from that exhibit were donated to La Casita and are currently on display as part of La Casita’s exhibit Corazón del Barrio (Heart of the Barrio).

Luz and Marianela Encarnación, and Jaydia Perry, performed at La Casita for a special 360 video.
Luz and Marianela Encarnación, and Jaydia Perry, performed at La Casita for a special 360 video.

One of the projects commemorating La Casita’s 10th anniversary this fall, involved a reunion of dancers from the original troupe, once again led by Luz Encarnación. The trio included Luz and Marianela Encarnación, and Jaydia Perry. Their Plena dance performance was caught on video by Professor Dan Pacheco and his students at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. Pacheco, a specialist in emerging technologies, developed a class project to collectively produce a 360 video with his students. It was especially moving for Professor Pacheco to work on a project that represented his own Puerto Rican roots and cultural heritage. The video features dancers in full costume, dancing to an original piece of Plena music composed and recorded especially for La Casita by Rochester-based musician from Puerto Rico, José Mora. You can view the video using this link: La Casita Plena 

Children from our community join our Danza program every year.
Children from our community join our Danza program every year.

Through the years, SU students have followed in Luz Encarnación’s footsteps. Luz inspired the work of these students by setting the precedent as dance instructors and as mentors to our youths and familias. To this day, La Casita continues to offer weekly dance workshops through its Danza Program for children on Saturday afternoons. For more information about joining the workshops for children or for adults, please call La Casita at 315-443-2151. Everyone is welcome!

The rhythms, rich music and dance traditions from around Latin America bring us together to celebrate our culture as a community.


Building Community

La Casita Blueprints
The Original Blueprints diagram the selected building project that would later become La Casita

Prior to 2011, the historic Lincoln Supply Building remained an empty warehouse space located on Syracuse’s Near Westside. In September of 2011 it became the home to La Casita Cultural Center, a vibrant and colorful space dedicated to Hispanic and Latino communities. It was the combined efforts of Syracuse University faculty, staff, students and community stakeholders that made La Casita the space it is today.

La Casita Blueprints
Blueprints presented by the Para Project. PARA is an office for architecture in New York City and Cambridge, Massachusetts, led by principal Jon Lott.


In September 2009, a ceremony was held to commemorate the start of a $3.2 million renovation project of the Lincoln Building, located at 109 Otisco Street, Syracuse. Initial funding for the renovation of the 100-year-old, former warehouse into mixed-use commercial and residential space came from Syracuse University (SU). The project also garnered funding from the Round 2 Restore New York Communities grant awarded by the state to the City of Syracuse as part of a statewide initiative to revitalize urban areas.

Ricon Criollo Cultural Center
Ricon Criollo Cultural Center served as the deign inspiration for La Casita at Syracuse University

The model concept for La Casita at SU can be traced to Spanish Harlem and the South Bronx. La Casita’s interior was designed by former SU professor in the School of Architecture, Jon Lott, to honor the Center’s mission in the New York City-based Casitas tradition. Lott drew inspiration from the Rincón Criollo Cultural Center in the Bronx, and developed a model that incorporates the outdoor/indoor aspect of the original Casita. The Center’s different spaces were designed with input from Syracuse University faculty, staff, and students, as well as from local residents of the Near Westside.

The original blueprints and design proposals show the collaborative nature of this project. It was the combined efforts of architects, designers, community organizers, academic scholars and students, that made La Casita the place it is today.

This year La Casita commemorates its 10th anniversary with its exhibit: Corazón del Barrio (Heart of the Barrio), which celebrates the community that have collaborated, participated and filled this space with life. Their art, their music, their wisdom, their stories and dreams create indelible learning experiences for all who enter here. They are the true Heart of the Barrio.

Interior design concepts for La Casita
The Interior design of La Casita was created with input for the educators and community leaders to meet the needs for the community.



Support for La Casita’s 10th Anniversary program comes from the College of Arts & Sciences at Syracuse University.
Additional support comes from Syracuse University’s Humanities Center and its 2021 Syracuse Symposium on “Conventions”
Office of Cultural Engagement for the Hispanic Community
Latino Latin-American Studies Program
Program on Latin America and the Caribbean (PLACA)
The Central NY Community Foundation on behalf of the Zayas Family

La Casita Honors the Founding of the Center

Syracuse Post Standard Article announcing La Casita Cultural Center's Grand Opening in 2011
Syracuse Post Standard Article announcing La Casita Cultural Center’s Grand Opening in 2011


As La Casita celebrates its 10th Anniversary with the latest exhibit, “Corazón del Barrio/Heart of the Barrio”, the center looks back at its milestones and accomplishments. The opening of the center in the fall of 2011 is one of those landmark achievements.

In 2011, La Casita Cultural Center, found a home located in the heart of Syracuse’s Near Westside. It all began as an initiative of Syracuse University’s Latino-Latin American Studies Program (LLAS) in collaboration with partners within the local community. Co-founders, Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla (now a faculty member of Hostos Community College, CUNY) and Silvio Torres-Saillant (Professor in the English Dept. and former director of LLAS at Syracuse University) spent two years getting to know this community and hosting open dialogues to discuss the needs and wants of the local Hispanic communities. These conversations informed the design of the space and the programs that continue to develop at La Casita today.

The model concept for La Casita can be traced to Spanish Harlem and the South Bronx. With the help of neighbors, Jose (Chema) Soto created a bright, lively, and sustainable space for Latino communities to gather, celebrate their culture and traditions, host events, play music, dance, or simply visit. “Our mission is artistic, cultural, educational, and it has to do with this neighborhood. It has to do with the Latino population in Central New York and anything that relates to Latin American and Caribbean-American heritage,” said Lara-Bonilla at the opening of the center.

10-years later, La Casita is still dedicated to the addressing the needs of the local Hispanic communities. To this day the center continues to engage with the organizations, community leaders, and families, who have collaborated and participated in La Casita’s programs. To each of them we dedicate this exhibit since they are the true heart of the barrio.


Support for this program comes from the Office of Cultural Engagement for the Hispanic Community at the College of Arts & Sciences, the Humanities Center, the Latino-Latin American Studies Program, and the Program on Latin America and the Caribbean at Syracuse University.