Dance summit showcases women in hip-hop

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Stepping into the spotlight

Bong has taken on leadership roles in hip-hop ever since she formed her first dance company at age 16. She’s the executive director of UniverSOUL Hip Hop, a multicultural group of socially engaged dance practitioners she founded in 2014 with a mission to bring community, justice and joy into communites through dance programs, performances and productions. In 2018, she established Kaufman Connections, a program that sends Bachelor of Fine Arts students from USC Kaufman to teach hip-hop dance to students at 32nd Street Elementary School, adjacent to USC’s University Park Campus.

Also in 2018, Bong founded the Cypher Summit as a biennial forum for hip-hop dance leaders to gather and discuss topics that are important to the community. The first summit centered on the challenges of integrating hip-hop, a community-based art form, into academia. The 2022 summit was themed around sisterhood — and it was such a powerful event that Bong knew she had to plan a sequel this year.

“It felt like the conversation was just starting,” Bong recalls. “We’re building off of that momentum.”

This is the first year Bong has collaborated on the Cypher Summit with Visions and Voices. “The collaboration allows us an opportunity to envision the summit in new ways,” Bong says. The dance performances and dance battles are new additions.

Julia Ritter, dean of USC Kaufman, notes that the summit has gained prominence nationally as it has matured. “Tiffany has taken the Cypher Summit from an idea to a respected biennial event that captures the attention of artists from all over the country,” Ritter says. “She is excellent at bringing people together and challenging them to dig deeper into embodied, historical and theoretical inquiry.”

Scheduled to perform is the Ladies of Hip-Hop Dance Collective, an all-female, New York-based group that foregrounds Black women. Bong notes that Black women’s contributions to hip-hop dance, while formidable, have too often been minimized.

“They have been the caretakers and tradition bearers, the leaders and pioneers,” Bong says.

Also appearing is Nefer Global Movement, an all-female group led by USC Kaufman artist-in-residence Toyin Sogunro, a trailblazer in house dance, a social dance with roots in hip-hop. In 2011, Sogunro and her partner, LaTasha Barnes, became the first female team and first American team to take first place in the world championship for house dance in the Juste Debout competition.

Break Through Hip Hop, a USC dance team led by students and advised by Bong, will also perform. Though Break Through Hip Hop is not an exclusively female group, their summit performance will include only female members.

“I think that [the summit] has a special place in all of our hearts as dancers,” says Anna Keough, a sophomore majoring in business who co-directs Break Through Hip Hop. “It’s celebrating our history. I think that it’s just going to be a really amazing experience and opportunity for us. We get to showcase some of what we work on.”

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