Dance Matters: Beating the Floor and the Odds

April 30, 2013

Tap dancer 
Evan Ruggiero



With National Tap Dance Day coming up on May 25, tapper Evan Ruggiero, 22, has reason to celebrate. During the past year, the undergraduate’s schedule has rivaled that of any professional dancer, with performances at the St. Louis Tap Festival, the L.A. Tap Fest, and Jersey Tap Fest, alongside appearances with the New Jersey Tap Ensemble. Last August, Ruggiero shot a segment for Tap World, a documentary produced by Chloe and Maud Arnold. In January, he was a featured contestant on American Idol, and this month he appears in Wild Party at Montclair State University, where he is pursuing a BFA in musical theater.


At left: Photo of Ruggiero by Jordan Matter, Courtesy Ruggiero.


Ruggiero’s success comes just three years after a diagnosis of bone cancer forced the amputation of his right leg above the knee. Determined not to abandon his dream of becoming a professional dancer, Ruggiero relearned how to tap, in part by watching videos of “Peg Leg” Bates, the famed amputee tapper from the 1930s and ’40s.


“As tap dancers, we’re always stealing steps from others,” Ruggiero says with a laugh. “We always give credit though. ‘Peg Leg’ Bates was my inspiration.” Ruggiero hopes that his story will also help others. He is an active fundraiser for cancer research through Relay for Life and Cycle for Survival. And he recently began motivational speaking not only for cancer patients and survivors, but also for student and business groups.


Upon graduation in December 2013, Ruggiero intends to move to New York City or Los Angeles in order to work on Broadway or in television, film, and music. Beyond that, however, his plans are loose. “After being diagnosed with cancer,” he says, “I don’t want to live life going by books or plans. I just want to take every day as it comes.”