Disabled Mount Sinai patients learn to tap dance with their hands

Share on

Choreographer Mary Six Rupert instructs her students to let their fingers do the dancing.

Choreographer Mary Six Rupert instructs her students to let their fingers do the dancing.

The former Rockette teaches a special Mount Sinai Hospital dance class for disabled patients called “Tap Dancing Hands Down,” where the participants perform their steps with two hands instead of 10 toes.

“Some of them used to be dancers, before whatever their injury was,” Rupert told the Daily News about her work in the hospital’s Recreational Therapy Service.

“So for them, it brings back their joy of dancing again that they thought they might never have. Some of them used to tap, and they thought those days were over.”

disabled-mount-sinai-patients-learn-to-tap-dance-with-their-hands photo 1

Student Avni Jahjaga shows off the unique hand gear.

(Susan Watts/New York Daily News)

Participants include patients disabled by stroke, brain and spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis.

Rather than tap shoes, Rupert hand-makes each of her “dancers” a pair of “tap gloves” — fitted with the taps from a dancing shoe.

The patients then move their undulating fingers across a small wooden dance floor, creating the familiar click-clack of a typical tap dancer.

Jeanette French, 68, lost the use of her left arm following a stroke four years ago and feared her days on the dance floor were now nothing more than a memory.

disabled-mount-sinai-patients-learn-to-tap-dance-with-their-hands photo 2

Rupert came up with the idea for the class after her mother ended up in a wheelchair.

(Susan Watts/New York Daily News)

When she joined Rupert’s program, “it was like a renewal to me,” said the Harlem woman. “I thought it was the best thing that I had ever seen in my life.

“When you’re disabled, everybody says, ‘You can’t.’ Well, here we can.”

Classmate Ricky Wilhite, 37, is confined to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy. He finds the dance class gives him a sense of joy and self that was missing from his life.

“I can do things I thought I couldn’t have been able to do,” explained Wilhite. “To me, it relaxes my muscles ... It’s helped me to be much more independent. I can do things for myself.”

disabled-mount-sinai-patients-learn-to-tap-dance-with-their-hands photo 3

Student Corey Hill attends the class.

(Susan Watts/New York Daily News)

The program, introduced in 2011, just wrapped up its summer session of eight classes last week. The classes resume Oct. 29, when some of the students will perform in a show to mark National Stroke Day.

Rupert, a professor of tap and jazz at Wagner College on Staten Island, said the concept of tapping with fingers instead of feet popped into her head after her own mother wound up in a wheelchair.

disabled-mount-sinai-patients-learn-to-tap-dance-with-their-hands photo 4

Rather than tap shoes, Rupert hand-makes each of her “dancers” a pair of “tap gloves” — fitted with the taps from a dancing shoe.

(Susan Watts/New York Daily News)

“Her arms and hands were in good shape, and that’s when I came up with the idea,” she explained. “We learn real tap steps, tap choreography, to all the similar music I use in all my other tap classes.

“I’d love for them to use as much tap as they can, but I want them to have fun.”

The class remains the first and only one of its kind in Manhattan.

Celebrity fitness trainer Corey Hill was paralyzed from the waist down by a freak 2011 elevator accident. He needs four arm crutches to move around, but only two of the tap gloves to get out on the small dance floor.

disabled-mount-sinai-patients-learn-to-tap-dance-with-their-hands photo 5

Rupert helps student Blake Hunt put on his tap gloves.

(Susan Watts/New York Daily News)

Hill, who had also pursued a Broadway career, hopes to return to the stage this winter with a one-man cabaret show.

But he prefers his performances with the crew at Mount Sinai to any solo work.

“It’s something that’s very exciting and very fulfilling, to be a part of a group again,” said Hill. “All our disabilities are different. But yet, we’re all one.”

Share on
Article Disabled Mount Sinai patients learn to tap dance with their hands compiled by www.nydailynews.com