As one of the smallest schools within USC, the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance is a tight knit family of incredibly intelligent and creative dancers from across the world. With a topic so niche, one may overlook dance studies if they do not already have a great interest in the art form. However, Kaufman is lush with various cultures, human fluidity, historical consciousness and artistic flair. And what is one of the best ways to start integrating with the community? Learn about the excellent students who create it.
Isaiah Franklin, Class of 2024
Right outside of the city of Atlanta is Marietta, Georgia, where 18-year-old Isaiah Franklin practices his craft. This includes not just the breathtaking dancing that landed him in Kaufman, but also singing, producing and whatever else he can get his hands on.
“I’m trying to find a way where I can make both dance and other art coalesce, that’s what I’m interested in,” he said. Beyond his many artistic and musical endeavors, though, dance is the go-to source of his creative process.
During the playful experimentation of developing his voice, Franklin looks to R&B, pop, alternative and other music genres. Really, anything with a good beat and solid instrumentals. Franklin is certain that he is uncertain about having one single source of inspiration, and instead aims to try on as many artistic hats as he can get his hands on. The coronavirus pandemic presented dancers with difficult obstacles to overcome, and Franklin is eager to collaborate with other students and faculty when the digital barricade finally goes down.
“Imma go hard,” he said. “I think it’s gonna be beautiful.”
Franklin is aiming to reach his goal of raising $3,000 for USC tuition and fees. You can support his education here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/m647tv-help-me-stay-in-school
Amanda Peet, Class of 2024
Beyond the dance studio, Amanda Peet of Dallas is a 19-year-old Virgo, caffeine addict, stressed college student and lover of music. When you watch her perform, however, she is an improvisational genius.
Peet breathes dance and allows intuition to guide her body movement. There is much that goes unspoken about improvisational dance that Peet appears to effortlessly master.
“One hundred percent of the time it’s never the way that I expect it or want it to be, but I also think that there’s a lot of beauty in that. I don’t like to be something that’s expected, I don’t think any dancer [does],” Peet said.
In a similar sense, Peet could not have predicted the discoveries that she would make at USC, as she is continually challenged to broaden her mindset. She mentions the gentleness and kindness of her professors at Kaufman, who have assisted her in deconstructing a Eurocentric perspective on dance into a completely new one that is being built upon every day.
Peet is blossoming as a young dancer, and is super excited to present her work to her family for her Repertory & Performance class during a virtual show in April.
Diego Lopez, Class of 2024
The naturally suave manner that emanates from Diego Lopez comes from his 13 years of dancing in Chihuahua, Mexico.
His focus is on hip-hop, but he is an enthusiastic learner for all things dance, including ballet, jazz, tap and more. Upon his acceptance into his top choice school, Lopez has been representing his home country at Kaufman while immersing himself in the new environment.
Lopez describes the Mexican dance style as more passionate and deeply emotional, while the United States’ approach is more consistent with training techniques. He is able to combine the two during his unique journey at USC. Lopez’s identity as a dancer has already expanded at Kaufman.
“[I’m] thinking about being an arts scholar, not just thinking about the arts as a movement but also as an impact in society, an impact in my life and how I perceive the world has really affected me and helped me through a lot.”
In just a few months, Lopez has begun to open his mind to so many aspects of his love for dance, such as the immense influence of Black culture on hip-hop. He looks forward to uniting with the familiar faces he sees every day on Zoom, creating and collaborating in studios and continuing this exploration of what it means to be a fully embodied entertainment artist and dancer without confines.
Jada Walker, Class of 2023
When Jada Walker is done with her classes at Kaufman, she closes her laptop and becomes the teacher. Interning at her studio Dancezone as well as teaching at Xtreme Level Dance and Soreal Dance Studio, Walker shares her personal choreography and steps into a lead figure for other dancers.
This role helps Walker develop her own uniqueness.
“I think [teaching] influenced me more to be unique rather than conform to what everyone else is doing … it’s given me more freedom to just express the way I want to move.”
But Walker also knows there is still so much to learn.
As a psychology minor, she is on a mission to answer questions about why we act or move the way we do and the connection between mind and body. Her curiosity and experience undoubtedly propels her at USC and will continue to support her post-graduation.
Walker aspires to own her own dance studio, where she will resume the teaching role and share the wisdom she collected over the years in the dance industry. As of now, she is very humble with her impressive success thus far, growing a following on TikTok and Instagram who enjoy her ’60s, ’70s and ’90s fashion and makeup aesthetic as well as her mature creative ability.
Ryan Phuong, Class of 2024
You may recognize hip-hop dancer and actor Ryan Phuong from his appearance on the raunchy television drama “Shameless,” Nickelodeon’s “Thundermans” and his most recent and prominent role in “The Big Bang Theory” spinoff “Young Sheldon.” What you may not know is that Phuong is also coming into his spirituality, learning meditation and self-reflection practices to stay grounded in the competitive and often judgmental entertainment world.
Since he was eight years old, Phuong’s trainer and mentor Debbie Allen helped him see that both dancing and acting require the bravery of constantly diving into one’s emotions. Expanding this mindset has helped Phuong holistically, and as he talks about the journey into radical self-love he acknowledges that “changing how I perceive myself and being in touch with my emotions more helped me to be free.”
Although hip-hop is his “bread and butter,” the encouraging environment at Kaufman inspires him to venture outside of his comfort zone and become a “hybrid artist.” For his next few years at USC, Phuong will focus on balancing his dynamic work with the social and academic elements of school.
Anja Tempel, Class of 2024
It is a beautiful thing to watch a young person find their voice, and Anja Tempel is doing amazing things with hers. The 18-year-old from New York City is venturing into new ground with her otherworldly dance skills and passion for both analyzing and creating social change.
Tempel sees dance as physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. By not only tuning into her own senses but also being a conduit for the emotions of others such as choreographers and audience members, she sees dance as key for understanding society around her. In doing so, her awareness of injustices even within the dance world has greatly increased.
“Dance is still reflecting the environment we’re in, which is a manifestation of racism and gender inequality,” Tempel said.
Becoming aware of the anxieties and oppressive roles that racism plays in her life motivates Tempel to not only come to terms with but to celebrate her Blackness, reclaiming the power in her culture and identity. At Kaufman, Tempel is learning about the cultural context to dance in classes like “World Perspective on Dance Performance,” getting to know West African movement and deconstructing the inaccurate media portrayal of hip-hop. Tempel inspires you to ask yourself — am I also challenging myself to make the change I want to see?
Hope Patterson, Class of 2024
Sometimes you come across something, and for whatever reason it immediately clicks. Hope Patterson experienced this with dance just six years before being accepted into Kaufman, which is on the other side of the globe from her home in Hong Kong.
She recalls having the conversation with her parents at age 16 when they raised the question of college and whether she wanted to dance or study something academic. Patterson had no hesitation in following her call to pursue dance.
As a child, Patterson was always athletic and involved in competitive sports such as swimming and long distance running.
“I felt like everything was a competition all the time … mentally it was a lot,” she said. Although she began her dance career relatively late, Patterson quickly discovered that “[dance] was one of the only things where I actually felt free.”
Through a two-month jazz/contemporary program at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City, Patterson became aware of summer intensive dance programs, including one at USC. What at first seemed like a far away dream soon became her reality.
Patterson appreciates the collective mindset, explaining that “it’s not just about who’s the best dancer, who can do the most turns, whose leg is the highest. It’s also about what kind of opinions, what kind of perspective and what life experience are you going to bring.”