Bellaire High School Teacher Writes A Book About Dubsmash, TikTok and Dancing With His Students

Bellaire High School Spanish teacher, Trevor Boffone, Ph.D., busting a move with students Takia and Talia Palmer in 2019
Bellaire High School Spanish teacher, Trevor Boffone, Ph.D., busting a move with students Takia and Talia Palmer in 2019 Photo by Allen Dao
Dr. Trevor Boffone, the Bellaire High School Spanish teacher who embraced the music and dance of many of his students at the school, has written a book involving that experience and ways of building community through social media due to be released on July 2

Renegades: Digital Dance Cultures from Dubsmash to TikTok, published by the Oxford University Press is being presented as the first book published about TikTok. According to Boffone, a sometime contributor to the Houston Press, his book "specifically focuses on Black creators, cultural appropriation, community-building, and anti-racist teaching using social media as these topics play out on TikTok (and Dubsmash)."

In the beginning, Boffone just wanted to make a better connection with his students at the Houston high school. He knew music was important to them, had noticed several of them doing intricately choreographed dances and asked them to teach him some moves.

Soon enough, these were recorded in ten second videos that caught a lot of notice, helped in no small part by Boffone's Instagram account, @dr_boffone's. The Dubsmash app with its dancing challenges was a natural home for their output.

In time, Boffone and his students attracted national attention including an appearance on Good Morning America. Clearly, a white kind of nerdy male teacher dancing with predominantly Black students in the hallways of a school was attention getting.

In his book, Boffone writes that this music and performance-directed activity is a way these students build a sense of community amid a hip-hop culture. And he expands on this to talk about the Zoomer culture (those born in the mid-to-late 1990s to the early 2010s), particularly the Black Zoomer culture and how they use social media to connect.

But, of course, as with anything, all of Boffone's efforts weren't applauded. In a later chapter he address the backlash he received from white (mostly) women who questioned the language used in some of the songs his students selected to dance to in the videos.

His final chapter begins with an acknowledgement of George Floyd's death and the importance of the cell phone recordings that were made that day (Black teenager Darnella Frazier was just awarded a 2021 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation for the video she made that day seen around the world). Without social media, the truth of that arrest would have never come out. The Revolution, he says, will be Dubsmashed.

Renegades: Digital Dance Cultures from Dubsmash to TikTok is available for pre-order now on 192 pages.  Paperback $29.95, Kindle $9.99.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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