Evan Ruggiero

Evan RuggerioBy Kristin Lau
A tap dancer since he was five, Evan Ruggiero has always aspired to perform on Broadway. His drive and talent led him to Montclair State and helped him land a role in Crazy For You in the fall of his freshman year, when first-year students are rarely allowed to perform in productions.  

Ruggiero’s dreams almost ended in November 2009, when he was just 19 years old. He suffered pain in his right leg and, after a biopsy, found out he had osteosarcoma, a bone cancer. His first reaction to the news was fear: “No one ever prepares you for being told you have cancer.”

In order to focus on treating the cancer, he took a leave of absence from school. He underwent eight different surgeries and yet, in May 2010, he was told that the cancer had recurred. The only way to remove it was to amputate his leg above the knee. Though shocked and upset, Ruggiero was determined to conquer the challenge. After a long conversation with his doctor, he said, “I promise you, I’ll tap dance again.”  

After the amputation, he started chemotherapy. “One way that I got through all of it is I started to go back to Montclair State.” With the help of devoted friends and supportive professors, he managed to continue his education and to return to a normal routine, he says. “I would set myself short goals for the week, and it would make me push a lot harder,” he says.

By December 2010, Ruggiero’s cancer was in remission and he was more determined than ever to keep dancing. Inspired by Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates, a tap dancer who danced with a peg leg after an amputation, Ruggiero asked his doctor about getting one for himself. “Let me start tapping again and let’s see what happens,” he recalls saying. He began with basic steps, and before he knew it, he was tap dancing as frequently as he did before his diagnosis. He could still pursue his passion for performing.  

In the past two years, Ruggiero has performed with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, the St. Louis Tap Festival, the LA Tap Fest and the Jersey Tap Fest. Recently, he gained national attention for auditioning on the Fox Network’s American Idol where he sang, played guitar and shared his story with a national audience.  
Evan Ruggiero - American IdolAlthough he did not make it to the next round of American Idol, he has kept busy, performing with the New Jersey Tap Ensemble, with which he has danced since he was 10 years old. He performs at schools in his hometown of Old Bridge, N.J., and talks to children at schools and hospitals, reminding them that “No matter what life throws at you, you can overcome anything.”  

He still attends Montclair State and has a role in an upcoming production of The Wild Party in May. In his spare time, he serves as the spokesperson for Cycle for Survival, an organization that raises money for cancer research. Ruggiero will graduate in December 2013 and plans to pursue a career in the arts. Despite his experiences, he stays positive and encourages others to “keep going, there’s so much out there in the world.”

“There’s nothing stopping you,” he says. “Everyone has the potential to achieve greatness and really reach for their dreams.”