Meet an inspiration: Evan Ruggiero
Whether riffing with musicians on a concert stage or percussively punctuating the last notes he belted out in a musical, Evan Ruggiero is taking the tap world by storm. One of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” for 2019, and a Só Dança Ambassador, he has performed on The Ellen Show, Broadway Under the Stars and the 2018 Oscars, just to name a few. Ruggiero is a cancer survivor, whose battle forced him to have his leg amputated, but he didn’t let this slow him down. His fast and furious footwork are a testament to hard work and perseverance.
A PASSION FOR PERFORMING
Ruggiero began tapping at a young age after watching his sister’s dance class. “There was something about my feet making sound and getting to stomp around that I just loved,” he explains. At age 10, he decided to train more seriously, so he auditioned and was accepted into the New Jersey Tap Ensemble, a company he still performs with to this day.
His training as a tapper extended beyond the studio, though. According to Ruggiero, growing up, he was a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen and idolized saxophonist Clarence Clemens. His admiration inspired him to pursue music more vigorously. After learning to play the saxophone, guitar and piano, he found his way to the drums, which he says, “went hand and foot with tap.”
His combined talent for music and dance made musical theater a natural fit. Although he had performed lead roles in Annie and Grease at summer camp, Ruggiero explains that it wasn’t until middle school that he really immersed himself in musical theater as a way to make friends after experiencing severe bullying because of his dancing.
TRIUMPH THROUGH ADVERSITY
Then, while studying musical theater at Montclair State University, he began feeling pain in his right leg. Although he assumed it was an injury from dancing, further examination revealed osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. “I decided to take some time off from school and training,” he says, but “I constantly spoke with my doctors about wanting to dance again.” After nine surgeries, the cancer spread, forcing his doctors to amputate his leg.
Despite the circumstances, Ruggiero reveals, “I never doubted I would dance again.” He explains that he had seen videos of legendary tapper Peg Leg Bates, who lost his leg in a cotton mill accident but went on to perform in Vaudeville circuits, the Cotton Club and The Ed Sullivan Show. Ruggiero knew the same was possible for him, so after recovering, he began watching videos and experimenting, making modifications using his prosthetic. In the process, he developed a distinct and creative style that showcases his rhythmic talent and his infectious charisma. “In many ways, I’ve exceeded some of my career goals,” reflects Ruggiero, explaining that he never would have imagined he’d have the opportunity to perform with Jason Mraz, a personal hero of his.
For Ruggiero, whose motto is “triumph through adversity,” the sky’s the limit. Not only has he danced his way across stages in Hollywood and New York City, he performs (he taps and plays the guitar!) with his band, Evan and the S’evan Legs. He also starred in the 2018 Off-Broadway hit, Bastard Jones. When asked what’s next, he confides, “Performing on Broadway is definitely on my bucket list!” In the meantime, fans should be on the lookout for details on his involvement in an exciting project. “I can’t say much quite yet,” he says, “but it’s in NYC, and it’s going to be very big.”
TEAMING UP WITH SO DANCA
Fans of Ruggiero are sure to notice his striking Só Dança custom pro white tap shoe with royal blue accents that are just as bold and electric as his dancing. The shoe, he confides, is his favorite. But Ruggiero’s partnership with Só Dança extends beyond the sleek look of his tap shoe.
“Being a Só Dança ambassador has been a tremendous honor,” he says. “I am very grateful to be working alongside a company that shares similar views to mine. It has taken me years to find a shoe that can match the intensity and resonance of my peg leg, and I’ve finally found that in my Só Dança tap shoes. As an ambassador of Só Dança, I hope to share my love of the art form with others and encourage them to ask questions not only about dance but also about life, and why I continue to dance. Tap dancing is a passionate art form. It can be emotion-based for some. It can get us through hard times. And Só Dança understands that.”
SPREADING THE MESSAGE
Ruggiero also reveals his journey led him to motivational speaking and advocating for inclusivity in the arts, a passion that began when his mom invited him to speak to elementary students at her school. Since that initial engagement, he has developed a structure that is uniquely his own. “It’s a one-man band kind of thing,” says Ruggiero and explains that his approach combines everything he loves, including sharing his story, speaking, singing, dancing and playing guitar. “I love that I get to be myself and meet incredible people,” he concludes.
His story of tenacity and his generous spirit have led him to speak at the World Youth Forum and the Biden Cancer Initiative, to name a few. The Global Dance Initiative, a non-profit organization that honors people creating positive change in the world through dance, also recognized Ruggiero as a hero. Wherever he goes, the message he spreads is the same: perseverance. “Stick to what you love,” he encourages, “and triumph through adversity.”