Teachers Trending

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."

Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

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