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Rochester 10: Chaz Bruce


Life has changed a lot for 35-year-old Rochester musician and dancer Chaz Bruce since last spring when, after a decade in education, he left his position as a music teacher at School 17 to pursue a full-time career as a social media influencer and entrepreneur.

  • Photo by Josh Saunders

With 2.6 million followers and 51.1 million "likes" (and counting) on the emergent social media platform TikTok, Bruce's star is rising quickly as he's embraced the role of Internet celebrity, cultural ambassador, and educator-at-large in the last year.

Started in 2017, TikTok is a mobile app for sharing short videos of lip syncing, music performances, and comedy bits lasting up to 15 seconds. It was the fourth most downloaded app in 2019 and the seventh most downloaded of the decade, according to app tracker App Annie. TikTok is arguably at the forefront of creative expression on social media, and Bruce is right in the center of it. But how did he get there?

"I understood, one, the importance of social media, video content, and capturing the moment," Bruce said. "And I didn't necessarily know what platform it was gonna be that I would blow up, but I always incorporated any of my social media and videos into my classroom. 'Cause I just knew that it was important, not only to me and to the world, but it was important to the students."

  • Photo by Josh Saunders

Bruce's TikTok videos, particularly those he created with the students in his music class at School 17, have a fun-loving, irrepressible energy — whether Bruce and company are finding creative ways to demonstrate the latest dance trends or simply joking around.

And while having fun is an important component of Bruce's online presence, there is a greater message. "That positivity, energy, love, and arts win — period," he said. "And authenticness wins, being yourself. If you wanna dance, dance. If you wanna sing, sing. If you wanna inspire, inspire. And then put yourself around people that wanna do the same thing, and try and figure out who you are before you try and curate yourself to be somebody that you've seen elsewhere."

Through the creation of TikTok videos with his students, Bruce utilized this approach to authenticity and creative expression in his own customized curriculum, incorporating lessons about building a personal brand and reaching a large audience on social media. His students learned about what to call your followers (in this case, #BruceGang), how to create a logo, how to use music to help brand the logo, and how to create and sell merchandise based on your social media brand and content.

  • Photo by Josh Saunders

Bruce was teaching life skills on the sly, showing his students how to be confident, enterprising, and successful, no matter what talents or skills they may have. "What are you really learning in this class that you might not learn in these other classes, 'cause they're forced to teach to this curriculum so that you can pass this test?" he asked. "I don't care about a test. Learn this so your life can be better." In his own formative education, Bruce said he had a series of influential music teachers who mentored him and encouraged his creative talents.

In addition to presenting at schools, he now works with various organizations and businesses on social media outreach.

Ultimately, Bruce wants to be both an educator and an entertainer, no matter where TikTok takes him. "I will forever teach," he said.