Meet Emma: Jewish Tap Dancer of the Week

by Rachel Kriegsman / April 27, 2021

Emma Sheffer has a passion for dance and theater. In fact, she’s been tap dancing since she was 2 years old! When she’s not tapping her way around DC, Emma is a high school English teacher.

Read this week’s blog to learn more about Emma, her dream day in DC, and the best advice she’s ever received.

Rachel: What brought you to DC and what made you stay? 

Emma: I was born and raised in Montgomery County, MD, so I’ve always been around the DC area. I’ve definitely stayed because there are a lot of job opportunities and opportunities for upward mobility, but also because the culture is incredible. There is every different kind of person here – the diversity is beautiful. 

Rachel: Is there a particular part of DC that you love the most? 

Emma: I grew up going to DC Dance Collective in Friendship Heights. I took a bunch of classes there, including with GatherDC community member Pacey. We took tap classes together. I think the last time I was there was for Tap Festival in 2013. 

Rachel: That’s awesome. Were you a tap dancer for a long time? 

Emma: Yes! I’ve been tap dancing since I was 2 years old. I haven’t tapped since the pandemic, because I have respect for my neighbors and everyone is home all the time. But I still dance when I can and love it. 

Emma and her mom at a local dance recital in 2016

Rachel: What do you do nowadays when you’re not tap dancing? 

Emma: I teach 9th grade English for Maryland Public Schools. I currently teach at Wheaton High School, where we have just returned to the classroom. But for a while, I thought that I wanted to pursue theater professionally. I took the time to study theater in a theater education program. In a way, I knew teaching would always be in my journey. I taught dance for a little while, which I loved, but I knew that I didn’t want to do it forever. 

I started out teaching 6th grade English in Bethesda, which I did for four years before teaching at Wheaton. I also coordinated our annual outdoor education trip in that position. In fact, I found out lockdown was happening while I was camping with 200 12-year olds last spring. It was wild.  

Now that I’ve been teaching for five years, I can’t imagine doing anything else. 

Rachel: What is your best life hack that has helped you get through the last year of the pandemic? 

Emma: Self compassion. I have really been trying to remove the word ‘should’ from my vocabulary. I try to not have that ambiguous, background worry about all the things that I am not doing in a day, because there are lots of things that lots of people aren’t doing and the world isn’t ending. If I would benefit more from taking a nap than cleaning my kitchen, I’m going to take that nap. 

Rachel: Describe your dream day in DC.

Emma: I would wake up in downtown Silver Spring, where I live, and I would go over to Tastee Diner for brunch. Then I’d walk around Friendship Heights, where I would take a dance class. After that, I would go to a park and ideally hear live music. I’d probably end my day at the 9:30 Club. That would be my dream day! 

Rachel: What is one thing that you can’t get through the day without? 

Emma: Talking to my mom, which I feel is a very Jewish answer. My mom is my best friend. We cook together and we always catch up at the start of the day and then text throughout. I love my mom. 

Rachel: That’s lovely. Have you been able to see your mom a lot this past year?

Emma: Yes, fortunately. And now she and my dad and I are all vaccinated so we’ve been able to hang out. It was really nice, we hosted our first Seder at my parent’s house this year. I have some family members who are more religiously Jewish and it’s something I’ve been wanting to explore more as an adult. I’m definitely doing it for myself because it feels right. My parents have always been open to anything and are always welcoming of other people’s ideas, so religiously, that was my upbringing. But we did our first Seder as an immediate family this year and it was the best. It was very silly. I like when Seders are silly because I feel like they can be a very serious affair, but it’s nice to make them a little more relaxed. 

My favorite part was singing Dayenu, because we just kept getting louder and more intense with each verse. It made me very happy. 

Rachel: Do you have any favorite Jewish foods that you like to make? 

Emma: I make a great matzo ball soup. I really love making the broth from scratch. I also make an incredible kugel, except for one time when I was cooking with my mom and she handed me salt instead of sugar and we were both so unsuspecting. But the rest of the time, it’s really good! 

Rachel: What is something that people might be surprised to learn about you?

Emma: I was on the pom squad in high school. I never missed a football game in high school, and I still don’t know the rules. I was there to dance and meet friends. For anyone who knows me now, though, I have a country-punk aesthetic, so they might not suspect that about me from my high school days. 

Rachel: Would you rather live in the ocean or on the moon? 

Emma: Oh, definitely in the ocean. The ocean is just so vast and there must just be incredible, probably unspeakable things down there, and I want to learn all about them. I think I would be an awesome sea monster, too, for what it’s worth. So let’s get kraken! 

Rachel: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? 

Emma: Let go of what you can’t control. Just the whole idea that the universe is chaos. Whether or not you believe there is a higher purpose to it all is no one’s business, but it is everyone’s duty to carve out our own meaning. I love that about Judaism, actually – the idea that we wrestle with meaning and like to dig deeper to understand ‘why’ about so many things. I like that investigative stance because I feel it’s our duty to create meaning. 

Rachel: When the Jews of DC gather…

Emma: …great stories are shared, and the laughter is loud. 

Emma with family at the second seder this Passover


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