Celebrating International Tap Day
with JLDC Tap Faculty Isla Niezgoda

In honor of this month’s International Tap Day on May 25th, JLDC tap teacher and resident tap expert Isla Niezgoda sat down for an interview to share some wisdom and insights she has learned throughout her tap dance journey and tap dance classes in Boston.
The mission behind The Joanne Langione Dance Center has always been to preserve the integrity of dance by fostering future generations of well trained dancers. Founding Director Joanne Langione has placed great importance on a well rounded approach to dance education. By creating an atmosphere filled with love and support,  a faculty of true experts in each respected dance genre, it is no surprise that so many members of the Boston dance community call Joanne Langione Dance Center a home away from home.

JLDC students are trained in ballet as a foundation for the many dance forms they will undertake on their JLDC journey to a well-rounded dance education. “Most of the lessons learned in a ballet class seamlessly translate to the majority of dance styles performed professionally around the world today” notes JLDC founding director, Joanne Langione. 

A jazz dancer is able to execute dynamic movements because of the strength gained at the ballet barre, while modern dancers are able to release their bodies freely while still holding onto strong posture and alignment learned from the study of ballet.

“When teaching young students tap, we are teaching them so much more than sounds, steps and patterns. They are learning rhythm, how to count music and interpret musical notes, and are better able to understand how to sequence steps to create an exciting and cohesive piece” -Joanne Langione shared.

Celebrating International Tap Day with JLDC Tap Faculty Isla Niezgoda

Celebrating International Tap Day with Miss Isla

Miss Isla, who was born in Illinois, started dancing at a very young age. She grew up studying many different dance styles ranging from jazz, ballet, to even an occasional hip hop class.

But the one dance style that claimed her imagination she says, was the rhythm, speed and syncopated beats of tap dance

It wasn’t until Isla’s family decided to move to Minneapolis where she developed a real passion for the art and excitement of tap dancing.

“I auditioned for a regional youth tap ensemble and got in! With extra rehearsals, travel to performances and a real focus on tap technique, I grew to love making intricate rhythms while also learning the oral history of tap step by step” Isla shared.

If the job of a ballet dancer is to appear as if they are effortlessly floating across the stage in silence, the job of a tap dancer would be the exact opposite. With feet hugging the floor, knees bent, clear, clean rapid metal strikes make the sound and magic of tap.

It is clear in the way Isla dances that she is extremely inspired and influenced by the music she is dancing to. By allowing the rhythm of the music to be her starting point, Isla then finds ways to playfully syncopate the rhythm of her tap shoes to create beats that are uniquely her own filling the music with her sound. 

Finding Inspiration for Tap Dance Classes in Boston

When asked about some of her biggest inspirations in the tap space, Miss Isla had a long list of names ready.

“I loved watching old movies of Fred Astaire, Shirley Temple, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and Gregory Hines. I was lucky enough to take from many masters that inspired me including Ellen Keane, Cathy Wind, Dianne Walker, Sam Weber, Lane Alexander, Jason Samuel Smith, Derick Grant, and others.”

The passion that Isla shares for tap truly oozes out of every step that she executes. Not only has she taken note of what her favorite tap dancers have done before her, but more importantly she has poured her own artistry and personality into her dancing as well.

The combination of Isla’s discipline, artistry, and pure talent has led her to travel the world sharing the unique and universal language of tap. 

Whether dancing in Europe on a magnificent stage in collaboration with world renowned tap dancers or dropping her tap board outside the MBTA to raise funds for local tap artists, Isla brings joy and awareness of the beauty and excitement of tap dance to all who witness her grace and style as a grand tap Meister. 

Reflecting on International Tap Day

Before Isla started teaching with the dance center, she was actually an audience member at one of their annual recital performances. After the show, Founding Director Joanne Langione and Isla connected.

Isla shared how inspired she was after seeing the students of JLDC, and felt that she might be able to help them grow even more for tap dance classes in Boston. It did not take long for Isla to transition from a new JLDC teacher to Miss Isla, the full time resident tap expert at Joanne Langione Dance Center.

At JLDC, Joanne Langione believes that tap is an essential component of her students’ training. “Nothing teaches rhythmic coordination as proficiently and expertly as does tap,” Langione notes. 

When witnessing Isla teach a tap class, her professionalism, technique, and deep love for the art form is at the forefront of each lesson taught. Not unlike the other specialists on the faculty at JLDC, Isla has found an important balance between expecting the very best from her students, while still leaving space for individuality, artistic expression, and just plain fun.

Miss Isla inspires her students by sharing not only how to execute certain tap steps, but prioritizing the understanding of where tap dancing came from. She believes that teaching the history of tap dancing was just as, if not more important than teaching the actual tap steps.

“If students understand the root and origin behind the art form, they will be able to connect to something deeper than just learning steps.”-Joanne Langione adds.

For Isla, the greatest part about being a tap teacher, especially on International Tap Day is seeing her students’ hard work pay off inside the dance studio as well as onstage. 

“As with any musical instrument, when you tap dance, you can actually hear if you’re doing a step right or wrong, so when students are all together doing a step, there is an immediate reward!” Isla stated. It takes practice! 

Throughout her journey as a tap dancer and now teacher, Isla shares just how much her chosen path has positively impacted her life. She states, “I’ve met so many wonderful people in the tap world and so many students of tap who inspire me everyday, even long after they graduate JLDC. ”

As the primary tap teacher at the dance center, Miss Isla is able to see her students grow from learning the basic fundamentals of tap, to mastering the most intricate sequences of steps all under the JLDC roof.

When asked what Isla would say to someone that has never experienced tap dancing before, her answer was short, sweet, and to the point.  

“Start slow and learn where the 1 is!”

Tap Dance Classes in Boston, MA - Celebrate International Tap Day

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Shawn Mahoney

Shawn Mahoney began his ballet, tap, and jazz training at the Joanne Langione Dance Center and his early performing career with Jose Mateo’s Ballet Theatre in Boston, MA. As an apprentice, Shawn danced for American Ballet Theatre before joining Boston Ballet. At Boston Ballet, Shawn performed in Petipa, Balanchine, Kylian, Forsythe, Bejart and others. Shawn performed as a chosen member of “Tharp!”, a national and international touring company directed by Twyla Tharp. Ms. Tharp invited Shawn to be part of the creative and choreographic process for her Broadway hit “Movin’ Out” and performed in Tharp’s “Red, White, and Blues”. Shawn performed with the Suzanne Farrell/Balanchine Project, Sean Curran Company, Washington Ballet, and Bale Estado de Goias. As an educator, Shawn has taught internationally for Festa de Danca in Sao Paulo and Bermuda Civic Ballet. Currently, Shawn is on faculty at Emerson College, instructing dance classes to actors and musical theatre students and is a teacher and lecturer at Days in the Arts. Shawn founded Mahoney Agency, representing dancers for national engagements for the Nutcracker Ballet. Shawn is a sought out mentor for emerging artists and choreographers in ballet and contemporary dance.