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.
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:
“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.”