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Kaufman Connections Brings Dance to 32nd Street Classrooms

Senior Alvaro Montelongo talks with two of his students.

This year, the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance launched Kaufman Connections, a new initiative for community engagement, whose pilot program is partnering with 32nd Street Elementary School on a 24-week, hip-hop dance program led by USC Kaufman BFA students.

The program brings the choreographic process with a focus on hip-hop to over 200 3rd-, 4th- and 5th-grade students through weekly, one-hour sessions of integrated dance instruction on the 32nd Street Elementary School campus. Ultimately the program participants will demonstrate their learnings in two performances: one in the fall at an annual arts showcase at USC’s Bovard Auditorium, and a culminating performance in the spring at the Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center at USC.

From Students to Teaching Artists


Senior Helen Gratch demonstrates for her students | Photo by Cecile Oreste

The group of teaching artists leading the classes design and teach each lesson themselves. According to the group, this is one of the most valuable parts of their experience thus far.

“Part of the brilliance of a community-based education program is that teaching artists learn more about themselves and about empathy through the process of teaching,” said senior Ardyn Flynt. “In this way, my students have been as much my teacher as me to them. I have learned to gauge the eclectic energy of the room, and tailor my energy to meet the students’ needs. I’ve watched my students respond both positively and negatively to concepts I’ve introduced or explained. In consequence, I choose my language carefully and am aware of my own body language when relaying a concept. I have learned to be patient with myself. I’ve also changed my measure of ‘success’ to something inclusive of my students’ abilities and interest.”

USC Kaufman Faculty Mentorship


The 32nd Street students try out a few moves | Photo by Cecile Oreste

To ensure the quality of each class, the teaching artists are receiving training and ongoing professional mentorship from USC Kaufman faculty member and program director, Tiffany Bong, who has worked in the field of K-12 dance education for over 10 years.

For five years, Bong’s own K-12 dance education company, UniverSOUL Hip-Hop, has mentored and transitioned aspiring hip-hop artists to teach dance to students, bringing cutting-edge hip-hop instruction to diverse communities throughout L.A.

“Our director, Professor Bong, has shared tactics for effectively teaching young people that are particularly helpful,” said junior Rachel Harris. “She encourages us to positively reinforce good habits while demonstrating and analyzing the dance and rhythmical concepts in our classes. Since incorporating these tools into the lesson, I have seen a positive shift not only in how the students understand and connect with the material but also in building a healthy relationship with the teacher.”

Giving Back


Senior Alvaro Montelongo observes his students’ work | Photo by Cecile Oreste

According to USC Kaufman faculty member Tiffany Bong, the program builds on the students’ relationships with their teachers. It also hopes to increase teacher comprehension of grade-specific dance content standards. The program also aims to teach basic elements of dance and the choreographic process, with the goal of encouraging the extended application of dance in the classroom.

“Alongside providing quality dance instruction, one of the key objectives is to provide a cultural movement practice that will foster community, confidence and social-emotional learning for each child. We aim to develop important transferable life skills that are naturally embedded into the process of dance-making and performance,” Bong added.

Additionally, Kaufman Connections aims to serve other grade levels, as well as family and community members through two public performances. Kaufman Connections will also invite the community to attend rehearsals and other programs including an annual hip-hop conference.

This program was made possible by a generous grant from USC’s Good Neighbors Campaign,  a USC staff funded initiative which supports local community programs focusing on education, particularly in the neighborhoods surrounding USC’s downtown campus. Kaufman Connections is also made possible with funding from Arts in Action. Arts in Action is a program under the USC Provost’s Arts and Humanities Initiative. It supports USC arts activities that facilitate positive social change and enhance our collective quality of life within the community.

By Sara Silberman

Kaufman Connections Brings Dance to 32nd Street Classrooms was originally published on the University of Southern California website.