A Different Kind of Tap Dance Challenge

by Bridget Conrad | 7/10/2017 9:02 PM

Not many people realize what their purpose in life is during childhood, but the first time Evan Ruggiero put a pair of tap shoes on, he knew he wanted to pursue a career as a tap dancer. Ruggiero began dancing at the age of 5, and by the time he was 10-years-old, he was accepted into the famed New Jersey Tap Ensemble. While in the ensemble, he graced many famous stages including Lincoln Center, The Shomberg Museum of Harlem and The New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. As Ruggiero grew older though, he endured a setback that almost caused his dancing dreams to disappear.New Jersey Tap Ensemble. While in the ensemble, he graced many famous stages including Lincoln Center, The Shomberg Museum of Harlem and The New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. As Ruggiero grew older though, he endured a setback that almost caused his dancing dreams to disappear. In the beginning of his sophomore year at Montclair State University, Ruggiero was rehearsing for Montclair State’s production of A Man of No Importance when he felt a pain in his lower right leg. Originally, he thought he had fractured a bone while dancing, but after speaking with several doctors he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. During the next seven months, Ruggiero had a total of eight different surgeries in an attempt to get rid of the cancer and heal his leg. During surgery number nine, the doctors found out the cancer spread to his lungs, which prompted Ruggiero to make a life-changing decision. He opted to amputate his right leg, endure 16 months of chemotherapy, and have two lung surgeries to remove eight tumors. Right before his amputation surgery, Ruggiero remembered the story of Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates, a tapper who lost his leg in a cotton gin accident at the age of 12. Bates had his uncle make him a peg leg, and became a famous tap dancer. To this day, he holds the record for the most appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, and he performed for the King and Queen of England. “Peg Leg” was such an inspiration for Ruggiero that he decided to get his own peg leg from his doctor before he left the hospital. Within 18 months after the amputation, and only two days after receiving his “peg leg," Evan was tapping again. Since Ruggiero’s amputation, his career in dance, musical theatre, and music reached new heights. Once Ruggiero was able to tap on his peg leg, he learned to modify the way he tapped based on his abilities. He altered his dance vocabulary, and substituted sounds with a clap, which ultimately turned his whole body into a musical instrument. As soon as Ruggiero decided to put his revolutionary dance videos on YouTube, he became a household name. In fact, Ellen DeGeneres caught wind of Ruggiero’s story and invited him on the Ellen show in 2013 to talk about his journey and dance. “After the show, there was a great response in the dance world and theatre world. It opened up many doors for me to perform and travel around the world,” said Ruggiero. Since the show, Ruggiero has had the opportunity to travel the world performing in shows, and now serves as a motivational speaker in hospitals and schools. Currently, Ruggiero is the lead role in The Toxic Avenger at the CLO Cabaret in Pittsburgh. Ruggiero credits “Peg Leg” Bates as an inspiration who helped him continue his career in dance, but he met the person who had the most impact on his career during childhood. “My biggest dance inspiration would have to be one of my childhood teachers, Miss Kathy. She was my ballet teacher at my first dance school. I learned a lot from her about my inner strength, and applying diligence towards every task I perform,” said Ruggiero. Miss Kathy didn’t just teach Ruggiero dance, but she also taught him about life. Today, Ruggiero just feels fortunate that he created a career for himself that brings him joy. The key to his success is that he gets to do something he loves every day. “Find that one thing that makes you happy, and do it every day moving forward. Today, you can grow up and have a career in virtually anything you'd like,” said Ruggiero. Virtually anything is possible, as long as you surround yourself with people who support your goals and stay positive. Photo Credit: Jordan Matter

New Jersey Tap Ensemble. While in the ensemble, he graced many famous stages including Lincoln Center, The Shomberg Museum of Harlem and The New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. As Ruggiero grew older though, he endured a setback that almost caused his dancing dreams to disappear.


In the beginning of his sophomore year at Montclair State University, Ruggiero was rehearsing for Montclair State’s production of A Man of No Importance when he felt a pain in his lower right leg. Originally, he thought he had fractured a bone while dancing, but after speaking with several doctors he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. During the next seven months, Ruggiero had a total of eight different surgeries in an attempt to get rid of the cancer and heal his leg. During surgery number nine, the doctors found out the cancer spread to his lungs, which prompted Ruggiero to make a life-changing decision. He opted to amputate his right leg, endure 16 months of chemotherapy, and have two lung surgeries to remove eight tumors.


Right before his amputation surgery, Ruggiero remembered the story of Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates, a tapper who lost his leg in a cotton gin accident at the age of 12. Bates had his uncle make him a peg leg, and became a famous tap dancer. To this day, he holds the record for the most appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, and he performed for the King and Queen of England. “Peg Leg” was such an inspiration for Ruggiero that he decided to get his own peg leg from his doctor before he left the hospital. Within 18 months after the amputation, and only two days after receiving his “peg leg," Evan was tapping again.
 


Since Ruggiero’s amputation, his career in dance, musical theatre, and music reached new heights. Once Ruggiero was able to tap on his peg leg, he learned to modify the way he tapped based on his abilities. He altered his dance vocabulary, and substituted sounds with a clap, which ultimately turned his whole body into a musical instrument. As soon as Ruggiero decided to put his revolutionary dance videos on YouTube, he became a household name. In fact, Ellen DeGeneres caught wind of Ruggiero’s story and invited him on the Ellen show in 2013 to talk about his journey and dance. “After the show, there was a great response in the dance world and theatre world. It opened up many doors for me to perform and travel around the world,” said Ruggiero. Since the show, Ruggiero has had the opportunity to travel the world performing in shows, and now serves as a motivational speaker in hospitals and schools. Currently, Ruggiero is the lead role in The Toxic Avenger at the CLO Cabaret in Pittsburgh.


Ruggiero credits “Peg Leg” Bates as an inspiration who helped him continue his career in dance, but he met the person who had the most impact on his career during childhood. “My biggest dance inspiration would have to be one of my childhood teachers, Miss Kathy. She was my ballet teacher at my first dance school. I learned a lot from her about my inner strength, and applying diligence towards every task I perform,” said Ruggiero. Miss Kathy didn’t just teach Ruggiero dance, but she also taught him about life. 


Today, Ruggiero just feels fortunate that he created a career for himself that brings him joy. The key to his success is that he gets to do something he loves every day. “Find that one thing that makes you happy, and do it every day moving forward. Today, you can grow up and have a career in virtually anything you'd like,” said Ruggiero. Virtually anything is possible, as long as you surround yourself with people who support your goals and stay positive. 


Photo Credit: Jordan Matter


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