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The Teaching Tools This USC Kaufman Hip-Hop Professor Can't Live Without

Carolyn DiLoreto, courtesy USC Kaufman

Tiffany Bong has spent her career stepping into unexpected territory and making magic—a skill that's made all the difference in the face of COVID-19. As an 18-year-old freshman at Santa Clara University, she took her very first dance class, which set her on a path contrary to the expectations of her traditional Chinese household. "I was told I could either become a doctor or a lawyer," the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance hip-hop teacher says. "I didn't see myself in either of those, so I majored in psychology and dance without my parents knowing."

Upon graduation, Bong joined the Bay Area branch of the international hip-hop company Culture Shock. One year later, she moved to Los Angeles with $1,000 in her bank account, a car and no game plan. "I dove into classes at EDGE and Millennium, making up for lost training," she says. "But my real training came from dancing at the clubs all night long." Soon, she was progressing enough to join (and eventually win) battles.

Around this time, Bong found a passion for teaching. "I realized that as a teacher I could witness growth and transformation," she says. "I knew there were kids out there who would love to do what I do, and I wanted to help them." So, Bong created her own dance education company for K–12 students, UniverSOUL Hip Hop, which can now be found in more than 50 schools. She interviewed for her current position at USC Kaufman out of a desire to better incorporate hip hop into higher education.

Tiffany Bong and four students stand on one leg, other knee coming up to their chest and hands in fists, smiling

Carolyn DiLoreto, courtesy USC Kaufman

In mid-March, Bong quickly moved her classes online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "Hip hop is about community-based learning. It's all about dancing in a cypher. I use the Spotlight feature on Zoom to create that virtually," she says, by showcasing one dancer at a time, and having students demonstrate their support in the chat feature and with gestural affirmations.

"There is so much possibility that can come from this moment of pause," Bong says. "We are creative people; this is where we shine. As a global community, we can use virtual teaching to our advantage."

Her favorite breakfast:

Smoothie bowl with fresh raspberry, blueberry, coconut flakes and chia seeds. Grey stone background. Top view.

Getty Images

"Açai bowls all the way! I blend açai with almond butter, frozen bananas and nondairy milk. I put blueberries, pomegranates, coconut flakes and chia seeds on top. When I want to get even more healthy, I blend in spinach. It doesn't look as aesthetically pleasing, but it's good for you!"

Her pre-class prep:

"Mental health is very important right now. In order to give, I need to be filled and centered. To prepare for class I use meditation, prayer and walking outside, and review my outline/lesson content."

Her go-to teaching tool:

"Video of the dance forms I'm teaching helps provide cultural context and movement analysis. I love anything from 'Soul Train,' especially in the 1970s."

Her must-have teaching attire:

"I like the flexibility and lightness of Nike Free Runs for quick footwork, as well as the support and spring for jumps. I also like Lululemon. Their sizing fits well for me because I'm petite."

Her guilty pleasure:

"Ice cream, cake and Sidecar Doughnuts."

Teacher Voices
Photo courtesy Rhee Gold Company

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, there has been a shift in our community that is so impressive that the impact could last long into our future. Although required school closures have hit the dance education field hard, what if, when looking back on this time, we see that it's been an incredible renaissance for dance educators, studio owners and the young dancers in our charge?

How could that be, you ask?

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Photo by Yvonne M. Portra, courtesy Faulkner

It's a Wednesday in May, and 14 Stanford University advanced modern ­dance students are logged on to Zoom, each practicing a socially distanced duet with an imaginary person. "Think about the quality of their personality and the type of duet you might have," says their instructor Katie Faulkner, "but also their surface area and how you'd relate to them in space." Amid dorm rooms, living rooms, dining rooms and backyards, the dancers make do with cramped quarters and dodge furniture as they twist, curve, stretch and intertwine with their imaginary partners.

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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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