Kaufman student group teaches dance at local schools

The program, which debuted Fall 2018, received funding from the USC’s Good Neighbors Campaign and USC’s Arts in Action program. (Cecile Oreste/Daily Trojan)

Not every elementary and middle school student knows how to do the Floss, but a new USC community program is hoping to change that. For one hour a week, students from the Kaufman School of Dance teach hip-hop to classrooms of local elementary and middle school students.

Kaufman Connections, a program that launched at the beginning of Fall 2018, brings Kaufman students to 32nd Street Elementary School, which previously lacked a dance program. USC students coach classes of students throughout the semester and produce a performance at the end.

Kaufman part-time lecturer Tiffany Bong created the program to allow young students to see the impact of performing arts programs. Bong said she was heavily influenced by similar programs she participated in when she was younger.

“My whole life changed basically when I saw a hip-hop performance at my school in the fifth grade,” Bong said. “I started dancing that weekend and dancing on my own … so I understand the impact.”

Twelve USC students, ranging from sophomores to seniors, participated in the pilot program. New and returning students will teach this semester’s program, according to Bong.

Alvaro Montelongo Ali Modad, a senior majoring in dance, instructed a class of fourth graders last semester. He said that while working with the students, he felt their confidence increase over the course of the class.

“At the beginning of course, they [were] so shy,’” Montelongo Ali Modad said. “Throughout the semester, as they acquired more dance moves and more skills and they created their own handshakes and dance moves, they were more confident to go in the [dance] circle.”

Whenever Montelongo Ali Modad’s class had extra time, he would invite kids to teach each other dance moves, so they could learn through demonstrations.

“[There was this one kid who] did the Floss … He was so good and I was like, ‘teach it to us,’”  Montelongo Ali Modad said. “He got super nervous inside of the circle, and I was pushing him because I knew he could get it and I wanted him to get it.”

“His face just brightened and after that, he was able to explain the movement very clearly,”  Montelongo Ali Modad said. “And I just thought, ‘Oh my God, this is the power of community.’”

USC alumna and liaison Nelly Cristales, a second-grade teacher at 32nd Street Elementary, said the program was beneficial on both sides.

“Each third- through fifth-grade teacher enjoyed not only the support but also learned the language of hip-hop dancing,” Cristales said. “Through the professional development, [kindergarten] through fifth grade teachers received a very enriching and learning experience.”

The program is funded by the USC’s Good Neighbors Campaign and USC’s Arts in Action program.

“We really believe that young people in the South L.A. area in school deserve an opportunity to be connected with the arts,” said William Warrener, a USC consultant who works with the Arts in Action program. “Exposure to dance … has such an amazing impact on a person’s well-being.”

Because funding is limited, the Arts in Action program does not plan on financially supporting Kaufman Connections next year, Warrener said. However, he said Arts in Action will be looking for other resources in the community to fund Kaufman Connections.

“Knowing that there are now a number of faculty across the art schools at USC [that are] doing this sort of school work, we’re really interested in developing the conversation … to help them stay there,” Warrener said.

Bong said she is actively looking for other resources to help with funding in the future. She also said that this year is a pilot year for the program and hopes to replicate the experience with other schools. Kaufman Connections might create an after-school program for middle schoolers or integrate performing arts throughout elementary, middle and high school.

“We don’t just want to come in and leave,” Bong said. “We want to build alongside them.”