Never give up on your dreams. That was the message professional tap dancer Evan Ruggiero, who has one leg, wanted to send to an 11-year-old girl in Arizona who just lost a leg to cancer.
Abri Bentley, of Scottsdale, spent two days training with Ruggiero after her Instagram posts of herself dancing caught the eye of nonprofits and the professional dancer himself.
“She wants to be taken seriously as a dancer,” her mom, Nikkole Bentley, told T&T Creative Media. “Watching her out there with Evan, she was just a regular kid learning to tap like every other kid learns to tap.”
Abri, who began dancing at a young age, was diagnosed with cancer in the leg when she was 7 years old. During a long and difficult year of chemotherapy, she became dependent on her wheelchair and eventually lost the lower part of her left leg.
Throughout her battle with cancer, Abri said her biggest inspiration was 28-year-old Ruggiero, who went through a similar health ordeal when he was younger.
Ruggiero began dancing when he was 5 years old and went on to dance with acclaimed ensembles in his youth.
In his sophomore year of college, he was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer and was ultimately forced to amputate his right leg to save his life.
But he didn’t let the loss of a limb stop him and relearned how to tap dance, this time, on only one leg.
“I never allowed my amputation to stop me in my career as an actor and dancer, and now I’m fortunate enough to travel the world doing what I love,” Ruggiero said. “Abri has that same fighting spirit and I’m sure she’s going to do amazing things in her future.”
Her mom agreed: “No dream is out of reach. The steps may be different but the concept is still exactly the same.”